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OMEGA 



THE LAST DAYS OF THE WORLD 



BY 
CAMILLE FLAMMA RION 



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WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY 

Jean Paul Laurens, Saunier, Méaulle, Vogel, Rochegrosse, Geradin. 
Chovin, Toussaint, Guillonnet, Schwabe, and others 



NEW YORK: 
THE COSMOPOLITAN PUBLISHING COMPANY 



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COPYRIGHT, 1894, 

BY 

J. B. WALKER 



PRESS OF 

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OMEGA: 

THE LAST DAYS OF THE WORLD. 



CHAPTER I. 



T'^HE magnificent marble bridge which unites the Rue 
de Rennes with the Rue de Louvre, and which, lined 
with the statues of celebrated scientists and philosophers, 
emphasizes the monumental avenue leading to the new 
portico of the Institute, was absolutely black with people. 
A heaving crowd surged, rather than walked, along the 



8 OMEGA. 

quays, flowing out from every street and pressing forward 
toward the portico, long before invaded by a tumultuous 
throng. Never, in that barbarous age preceding the con- 
stitution of the United States of Europe, when might was 
greater than right, when military despotism ruled the 
world and foolish humanity quivered in the relentless 
grasp of war — never before in the stormy period of a 
great revolution, or in those feverish days which accom- 
panied a declaration of war, had the approaches of the 
house of the people's representatives, or the Place de la 
Concorde presented such a spectacle. It was no longer 
the- case of a band of fanatics rallied about a flag, marching 
to some conquest of the sword, and followed by a throng 
of the curious and the idle, eager to see what would hap- 
pen ; but of the entire population, anxious, agitated, terri- 
fied, composed of every class of society without distinction, 
hanging upon the decision of an oracle, waiting feverishly 
the result of the calculations which a celebrated astrono- 
mer was to announce that very Monday, at three o'clock, 
in the session of the Academy of Sciences. Amid the flux 
of politics and society the Institute survived, maintaining 
still in Europe its supremacy in science, literature and art. 
The center of civilization, however, had moved westward, 
and the focus of progress shone on the shores of Lake 
Michigan, in North America. 

This new palace of the Institute, with its lofty domes 
and terraces, had been erected upon the ruins remaining 



OMEGA . 



after the great social revolution of the international an- 
archists who, in 1950, had blown up the greater portion 
of the metropolis as from the vent of a crater. 

^___^^ __^ On the Sunday even- 

I - ing before, one might 

have seen from the car 
of a balloon all Paris 
abroad upon the boule- 
vards and public squares, 
circulating slowly and 
as if in despair, without 
interest in anything. 
The gay aerial ships no 
longer cleaved the air ; 
aeroplanes and aviators 
had all ceased to circu- 
late. The aerial stations 
upon the summits of 
the towers and build- 
ings were empty and de- 
serted. The course of 
human life seemed ar- 
rested, and anxiety was 
depicted upon every face. 
Strangers addressed each 
other without hesitation ; 

THE STREETS OF PARIS BY NIGHT. aUCl DUt OUC qUCStlOU tell 




lo OMEGA. 

from pale and trembling lips : " Is it then true ?" The 
most deadly pestilence would have carried far less terror 
to the heart than the astronomical prediction on every 
tongue ; it would have made fewer victims, for already, 
from some unknown cause, the death-rate was increasing. 
At every instant one felt the electric shock of a terrible 
fear. 

A few, less dismayed, wished to appear more confident, 
and sounded now and then a note of doubt, even of hope, 
as : /* It may prove a mistake ; " or, ^* It will pass on one 
side ; " or, again : " It will amount to nothing ; we shall 
get off with a fright," and other like assurances. 

But expectation and uncertainty are often more terrible 
than the catastrophe itself. A brutal blow knocks us 
down once for all, prostrating us more or less completely. 
We come to our senses, we make the best of it, we recover, 
and take up life again. But this was the unknown, the 
expectation of something inevitable but mysterious, terri- 
ble, coming from without the range of experience. One 
was to die, without doubt, but how ? By the sudden shock 
of collision, crushed to death ? By fire, the conflagration 
of a world ? By suffocation, the poisoning of the atmos- 
phere ? What torture awaited humanity ? Apprehension 
was perhaps more frightful than the reality itself. The 
mind cannot suffer beyond a certain limit. To suffer by 
inches, to ask ever^^ evening what the morning may bring, 
is to suffer a thousand deaths. Terror, that terror which 



OMEGA . 



m 



congeaîs the blood in the veins, which annihilates the cour- 
age, haunted the shuddering soul like an invisible spectre. 

For more than a 
month the business 
of the world had 
been suspended ; a 
fortnight before the 
committee of ad- 
ministrators ( f o r- 
merly the chamber 
and senate) had 
adjourned, ever\' 
other question hav- 
ing sunk into in- 
significance. For a 
week the exchanges 
of Paris, London, 
New York and Pék- 
in, had closed their 
doors. What was 
the use of occupy- 
ing oneself with 
business affairs, 
with questions of 
internal or foreign 
policy, of revenue 
or of reform, if the 

THE OBSERVATORY ON GAURISANKAR. * 




12 OMEGA, 

end of the world was at hand ? Politics, indeed ! Did 
one even remember to have ever taken any interest in 
them ? The courts themselves had no cases ; one does 
not murder when one expects the end of the world. 
Humanity no longer attached importance to anything; 
its heart beat furiously, as if about to stop forever. 
Every face was emaciated, every countenance discom- 
posed, and haggard with sleeplessness. Feminine coquetry 
alone held out, but in a superficial, hesitating, furtive 
manner, without thought of the morrow. 

The situation was indeed serious, almost desperate, even 
in the eyes of the most stoical. Never, in the whole 
course of history had the race of Adam found itself face 
to face with such a peril. The portents of the sky con- 
fronted it unceasingly with a question of life and death. 

But, let us go .back to the beginning. 

Three months before the day of which we speak, the 
director of the observatory of Mount Gaurisankar'had sent 
the following telephonic message to the principal observa- 
tories of the globe, and especially to that of Paris : * 

"A telescopic comet discovered tonight, in 290°, 15' 
right ascension, and 21°, 54' south declination. Slight 
diurnal motion. Is of greenish hue." 

Not a month passed without the discover)'' of telescopic 

* For about 300 years the observatory of Paris had ceased to be an observing sta- 
tion, and had been perpetuated only; as the central administrative bureau of French 
astronomy. Astronomical observations were made under far more satisfactory con- 
ditions upon mountain summits in a pure atmosphere, free from disturbing influences. 
Observers were in direct and constant communication by telephone with the central 
office, whose instruments were used only to verify certain discoveries or to satisfy the 
curiosity of savants detained in Paris by their sedentary occupation. 



OMEGA. 13 

cornets, and their announcement to the various observa- 
tories, especially since the installation of intrepid astrono- 
mers in Asia on the lofty peaks of Gaurisankar, Dapsang 
and Kanchinjinga ; in South America, on Aconcagua, 
lUampon and Chimborazo, as also in Africa on Kiliman- 
jaro, and in Europe on Elburz and Mont Blanc. This 
announcement, therefore, had not excited more comment 
among astronomers than any other of a like nature which 
they were constantly receiving. A large number of ob- 
servers had sought the comet in the position indicated, and 
had carefully followed its motion. Their observations 
had been published in the Neuastronomischenachrichten, 
and a German mathematician had calculated a provisional 
orbit and ephemeris. 

Scarcely had this orbit and ephemeris been published, 
when a Japanese scientist made a very remarkable sugges- 
tion. According to these calculations, the comet was ap- 
proaching the sun from infinite space in a plane but 
slightly inclined to that of the ecliptic, an extremely rare 
occurrence, and, moreover, would traverse the orbit of 
Saturn. " It would be exceedingly interesting,'' he re- 
marked, " to multiply observations and revise the calcula- 
tion of the orbit, with a view to determining whether the 
comet will come in collision with the rings of Saturn ; for 
this planet will be exactly at that point of its path inter- 
sected by the orbit of the comet, on the day of the latter's 
arrival." 



14 



OMEGA 



A young 
Institute, a 
the director- 
observatory, 
on this sug- 
installed her- 
ephone office 
capture on the 




THE YOUNG LAUREATE. 



laureate of the 
candidate for 
ship for the 
acting at once 
gestion, had 
self at the tel- 
in order to 
wing every 



message. In less than ten days she had intercepted 
more than one hundred despatches, and, without losing 
an instant, had devoted three nights and days to a 
revision of the orbit as based on this entire series of 
observations. The result proved that the German com- 
putor had committed an error in determining the peri- 
helion distance and that the inference drawn by the 
Japanese astronomer was inexact in so far as the date 
of the Comeths passage through the plane of the ecliptic 
was concerned, this date being five or six days earlier 
than that first announced ; but the interest in the 
problem increased, for the minimum distance of the 
comet from the earth seemed now less than the Japanese 
calculator had thought possible. Setting aside for the 
moment, the question of a collision, it was hoped that the 
enormous perturbation which would result from the at- 
traction of the earth and moon would afford a new method 
of determining with exhaustive precision the mass of both 
these bodies, and perhaps even throw important light upon 



OMEGA. 15 

the density of the earth's interior. It was, indeed, estab- 
lished that the celestial visitor was moving in a plane 
nearly coincident with that of the ecliptic, and would pass 
near the system of Saturn, whose attraction would prob- 
ably modify to a sensible degree the primitive parabolic 
orbit, bringing it nearer to the belated planet. But the 
comet, after traversing the orbits of Jupiter and of Mars, 
was then to enter exactly that described annually by the 
earth about the sun. The interest of astronomers was not 
on this account any the less keen, and the young compu- 
tor insisted more forcibly than ever upon the importance 
of numerous and exact observations. 

It was at the observatory' of Gaurisankar especially that 
the study of the comet's elements was prosecuted. On 
this highest elevation of the globe, at an altitude of 8000 
meters, among eternal snows which, by newly discovered 
processes of electro-chemistry-, were kept at a distance of 
several kilometers from the station, towering almost always 
many hundred meters above the highest clouds, in a pure 
and rarified atmosphere, the visual power of both the eye 
and the telescope was increased a hundred fold. The cra- 
ters of the moon, the satellites of Jupiter, and the phases 
of Venus could be readily distinguished by the naked eye. 
For nine or ten generations several families of astronomers 
had lived upon this Asiatic summit, and had gradually be- 
come accustomed to its rare atmosphere. The first comers 
had succumbed ; but science and industry had succeeded 



i6 OMEGA. 

in modifying the rigors of the temperature by the storage 
of solar heat, and acclimatization slowly took place ; as in 
former times, at Quito and Bogota, where, in the eigh- 
teenth and nineteenth centuries, a contented population 
lived in plenty, and young women might be seen dancing 
all night long without fatigue ; whereas on Mont Blanc in 
Europe, at the same elevation, a few steps only were at- 
tended with painful respiration. By degrees a small col- 
ony was installed upon tlxe slopes of the Himalayas, and, 
through their researches and discoveries, the observatory 
had acquired the reputation of being the first in the world. 
Its principal instrument was the celebrated equatorial 
of one hundred meters focal length, by whose aid the 
hieroglyphic signals, addressed in vain for several thou- 
sand years by the inhabitants of the planet Mars to the 
earth, had finally been deciphered. 

While the astronomers of Europe were discussing the 
orbit of the new comet and establishing the precision of 
the computations which foretold its convergence upon the 
earth and the collision of the two bodies in space, a new 
phonographic message was sent out from the Himalayan 
observatory : 

" The comet will soon become visible to the naked eye. 
Still of greenish hue. Its course is earthward.'' 

The complete agreement between the astronomical data, 
whether from European, American, or Asiatic sources, 
could leave no further doubt of their exactness. The daily 



OMEGA. 17 

papers sowed broadcast this alarming news, embellished 
with sinister comments and numberless interviews in 
which the most astonishing statements were attributed to 
scientists. Their only concern was to outdo the ascer- 
tained facts, and to exaggerate their bearing by more or 
less fanciful additions. As for that matter, the journals 
of the world had long since become purely business enter- 
prises. The sole preoccupation of each was to sell every 
day the greatest possible number of copies. They in- 
vented false news, travestied the truth, dishonored men 
and women, spread scandal, lied without shame, explained 
the devices of thieves and murderers, published the for- 
mulae of recently invented explosives, imperilled their 
own readers and betrayed every class of society, for the 
sole purpose of exciting to the highest pitch the curi- 
osity of the public and of "selling copies." 

Everything had become a pure matter of business. For 
science, art, literature, philosophy, study and research, the 
press cared nothing. An acrobat, a runner or a jockey, an 
air-ship or water-velocipede, attained more celebrity in a 
day than the most eminent scientist, or the most ingenious 
inventor — for these two classes made no return to the 
stockholders. Everything was adroitly decked out with 
the rhetoric of patriotism, a sentiment which still ex- 
ercised some empire over the minds of men. In short, 
from every point of view, the pecuniar>' interests of the 
publication dominated all considerations of public interest 



i8 



OMEGA. 



and general progress. Of all this the public had been for 
a long time the dupe ; but, at the time of which we are 
now speaking, it had surrendered to the situation, so that 
there was no longer *any newspaper, properly speaking, 
but only sheets of notices and advertisements of a com- 
mercial nature. Neither the first announcement of the 
press, that a comet was approaching with a high velocity 
and would collide with the earth at a date already deter- 
mined ; nor the second, that the wandering star might 
bring about a general catastrophe by rendering the atmos- 
phere irrespirable, had produced the slightest impression ; 
this two-fold prophecy, if noticed at all by the heedless 
reader, had been received with profound incredulity, at- 
tracting no more attention than the simultaneous an- 
nouncement of the discovery of 
the fountain of perpetual youth 
in the cellars of the Palais des 
Fées on Montmartre (erected on 
the ruins of the cathedral of the 
Sacré-Cœur). 

Moreover, astronomers them- 
selves had not, at first, evinced 
any anxiety about the collision, 
so far as it affected the fate of 
humanity, and the astronomical 
journals (which alone retained 
any semblance of authority) had 




A SHOWBR OF STARS. 



OMEGA. 19 

as yet referred to the subject simply as a computation 
to be verified. Scientists had treated the problem as one 
of pure mathematics, regarding it only as an interesting 
case of celestial mechanics. In the interviews to which 
they had been subjected they had contented themselves 
with saying that a collision was possible, even probable, 
but of no interest to the public. 

Meanwhile, a new message was received by telephone, 
this time from Mount Hamilton in California, which pro- 
duced a sensation among the chemists and physiologists : 

" Spectroscopic observation establishes the fact that the 
comet is a body of considerable density, composed of sev- 
eral gases the chief of which is carbonic-oxide.'' 

Matters were becoming serious. That a collision with 
the earth would occur was certain. If astronomers were 
not especially preoccupied by this fact, accustomed as they 
were for centuries to consider these celestial conjunctions 
as harmless : if the most celebrated even of their number 
had, at last, coldly shown the door to the many beardless 
reporters constantly importuning them, declaring that this 
prediction was of no interest to the people at large and 
was a strictly astronomical question which did not concern 
them, physicians, on the other hand, had begun to agitate 
the subject and to discuss gravely, among each other, the 
possibilities of asphyxia, or poisoning. lycss indifferent 
to public opinion, so far from turning a cold shoulder to 
the journalists, they had welcomed them, and in a few 



20 OMEGA. 

days the subject suddenly entered upon a new phase. 
From the domain of astronomy it had passed into that of 
philosophy, and the name of every well-known or famous 
physician appeared in large letters on the title-pages of the 
daily papers ; their portraits were reproduced in the illus- 
trated journals, and the formula, "Interviews on the 
Comet,'' was to be seen on every hand. Already, even, 
the variety and diversity of conflicting opinions had 
created hostile camps, which hurled at each other the 
most grotesque abuse, and asserted that all physicians 
were "charlatans eager for notoriety." 

In the mean time the director of the Paris observatory 
having at heart the interests of science, was profoundly 
disturbed by an uproar which had more than once, on 
former occasions, singularly misrepresented astronomical 
facts. He was a venerable old man who had grown gray 
in the study of the great problems of the constitution of 
the universe. His utterances were respected by all, and 
he had decided to make a statement to the press in which 
he declared that all conjectures, made prior to the tech- 
nical discussion authorized by the Institute, were prema- 
ture. 

It has been remarked, we believe, that the Paris observa- 
tory, always in the van of every scientific movement, by 
virtue of the labors of its members, and more especially, 
of improved methods of observation, had become, on the 
one hand, the sanctuary of theoretical research, and on the 



OMEGA . 



21 




By yean Paul Laurens, 



22 OMEGA. 

other the central telephone bureau for stations established 
at a distance from the great cities on elevations favored 
by a perfectly transparent atmosphere. 

It was an asylum of peace, where perfect concord 
reigned, where astronomers disinterestedly consecrated 
their whole lives to the advancement of science, and mu- 
tually encouraged each other, without experiencing any 
of the pangs of envy, each forgetting his own merit to 
proclaim that of his colleagues. The director set the 
example, and when he spoke it was in the name of all. 

He published a technical discussion, and he was listened 
to — for a moment. For the question appeared to be no 
longer one of astronomy. No one denied or disputed the 
meeting of the comet with the earth. That was a fact 
which mathematics had rendered certain. The absorb- 
ing question now was the chemical constitution of the 
comet. If the earth, in its passage through it, was to lose 
the oxygen of its atmosphere, death by asphyxia was in- 
evitable ; if, on the other hand, the nitrogen was to com- 
bine with the cometary gases, death was still certain ; but 
death preceded by an ungovernable exhilaration, a sort of 
universal intoxication, a wild delirium of the senses being 
the necessary result of the extraction of nitrogen from the 
respirable air and the proportionate increase of oxygen. 

The spectroscope indicated especially the presence of 
carbonic-oxide in the chemical constitution of the comet. 
The chief point under discussion in the scientific reviews 



OMEGA, 23 

was whether the mixture of this noxious gas with the 
atmosphere would poison the entire population of the 
globe, human and animal, as the president of the academy 
of medicine affirmed would be the case. 

Carbonic-oxide ! Nothing else was talked of. The 
spectroscope could not be in error. Its methods were too 
sure, its processes too precise. Everybody knew that the 
smallest admixture of this gas with the air we breathe 
meant a speedy death. Now, a later despatch from the 
observatory of Gaurisankar had more than confirmed that 
received from Mount Hamilton. Thi's despatch read : 

" The earth will be completely submerged in the nu- 
cleus of the comet, whose diameter is already thirty times 
that of the globe and is daily increasing." 

Thirty times the diameter of the earth ! Even then, 
though the comet should pass between the earth and the 
moon, it would touch them both, since a bridge of thirty 
earths would span the distance between our world and the 
moon. 

Then, too, during the three months whose history we 
have recapitulated, the comet had emerged from regions 
accessible only to the telescope and had become visible to 
the naked eye. In full view of the earth it hovered now 
like a threat from heaven among the army of stars. Ter- 
ror itself, advancing slowly but inexorably, was suspended 
like a mighty sword above every head. A last effort was 
made, not indeed to turn the comet from its path — an idea 



24 OMEGA. 

conceived by that class of visionaries who recoil before 
nothing, and who had even imagined that an electric 
storm of vast magnitude might be producecî by batteries 
suitably distributed over that face of the globe which was 
to receive the shock — but to examine once more the great 
problem under every aspect, and perhaps to reassure the 
public mind and rekindle hope by the discovery of some 
error in the conclusions which had been drawn, some 
forgotten fact in the observations or computations. This 
collision might not after all prove so fatal as the pes- 
simists had foretold. A general presentation of the 
case from every point of view was announced for this 
very Monday at the Institute, just four days before the 
prophesied moment of collision, which would take place 
on Friday, July 13th. The most celebrated astronomer 
of France, at that time director of the Paris observator>' ; 
the president of the academy of medicine, an eminent 
physiologist and chemist ; the president of the astronom- 
ical society, a skillful mathematician, and other orators 
also, among them a woman distinguished for her discov- 
eries in the physical sciences, were among the speakers 
announced. The last word had not yet been spoken. Let 
us enter the venerable dome and listen to the discussion. 
But before doing so, let us ourselves consider this 
famous comet which for the time being absorbed every 
thought 



CHAPTER II. 



The stranger had emerged slowly from the depths of 
space. Instead of appearing suddenly, as more than once 
the great comets have been observed to do, — either be- 
cause coming into view immediately after their perihelion 
passage, or after a long ser- 



ies of storms or moonlight 
nights has prevented the 
search of the sky by the 
comet-seekers — this float- 
ing star-mist had at first 
remained in regions visible 
only to the telescope, and 
had been watched only by 
astronomers. For several 
days after its discovery, 
none but the most power- 
ful equatorials of the ob- 
servatories could detect its 
presence. But the well- 
informed were not slow to 
examine it for themselves. 
Every modern house was 
crowded with a terrace, 



.f*;:.y'^^;f¥^^^f^?f'^:'" 



1 




THK STREET TELESCOPES. 



26 OMEGA, 

partly for the purpose of facilitating aerial embarkations. 
Many of them were provided with revolving domes. Few 
well-to-do families were without a telescope, and no 
home was complete without a library, well furnished with 
scientific books. 

The comet had been observed by everybody, so to 
speak, from the instant it became visible to instruments 
of moderate power. As for the laboring classes, whose 
leisure moments were always provided for, the telescopes 
set up in the public squares had been surrounded by im- 
patient crowds from the first moment of visibility, and 
every evening the receipts of these astronomers of the 
open air had been incredible and without precedent. 
Many workmen, too, had their own instruments, especially 
in the provinces, and justice, as well as truth, compels us 
to acknowledge that the first discoverer of the comet (out- 
side of the professional observers) had not been a man of 
the world, a person of importance, or an academician, but 
a plain workman of the town of Soissons, who passed the 
greater portion of his nights under the stars, and who had 
succeeded in purchasing out of his laboriously accumu- 
lated savings an excellent little telescope with which he 
was in the habit of studying the wonders of the sky. 
And it is a notable fact that prior to the twenty-fourth 
century, nearly all the inhabitants of the earth had lived 
without knowing where they were, without even feeling 
the curiosity to ask, like blind men, with no other preoc- 



OMEGA 



27 




cupation than the satisfaction of their appetites ; but 
within a hundred years the human race had begun to 
observe and reason upon the universe about them. 

To understand the path of the comet through space, it 
will be sufficient to examine carefully the accompanying 
chart. It represents the comet coming from infinite space 
obliquely towards the earth, and afterwards falling into 
the sun which does not arrest it in its passage toward 
perihelion. No account has been taken of the perturba- 
tion caused by the earth's attraction, whose effect would 
be to bring the comet nearer to the earth's orbit. All the 
comets which gravitate about the sun — and they are 
numerous — describe similar elongated orbits, — ellipses, 
one of whose foci is occupied by the solar star. The 
drawing on page 33 gives an idea of the intersections of 
the cpmetar>^ and planetary orbits, and the orbit of the 



28 OMEGA. 

earth about the sun. On studying these intersections, we 
perceive that a collision is neither an impossible nor 
an abnormal event. 

The comet was now visible to the naked eye. On the 
night of the new moon, the atmosphere being perfectly 
clear, it had been detected by a few keen eyes without the 
aid of a glass, not far from the zenith near the edge of the 
milky way to the south of the star Omicron in the con 
stellation of Andromeda, as a pale nebula, like a puff of 
very light smoke, quite small, almost round, slightly elon- 
gated in a direction opposed to that of the sun — a gaseous 
elongation, outlining a rudimentary tail. This, indeed, 
had been its appearance since its first discovery by the 
telescope. From its inoffensive aspect no one could have 
suspected the tragic role which this new star was to play 
in the history of humanity. Analysis alone indicated its 
march toward the earth. 

But the mysterious star approached rapidly. The very 
next day the half of those who searched for it had detected 
it, and the following day only the near-sighted, with eye- 
glasses of insufficient power, had failed to make it out. 
In less than a week every one had seen it. In all the 
public squares, in every city, in every village, groups were 
to be seen watching it, or showing it to others. 

Day by day it increased in size. The telescope began 
to distinguish distinctly a luminous nucleus. The excite- 
ment increased at the same time, invading every mind. 



OMEGA , 



29 




THE COMET AS SEEN AT PARIS. 



When, after the first quarter and during the full moon, 
it appeared to remain stationary and even to lose some- 
thing of its brilliancy, as it had been expected to grow 
rapidly larger, it was hoped that some error had crept into 
the computations, and a period of tranquillity and relief 
followed. After the full moon the barometer fell rapidly. 
A violent storm-center, coming from the Atlantic, passed 
north of the British Isles. For twelve days the sky was 
entirely obscured over nearly the whole of Europe. 

Once more the sun shone in purified atmosphere, the 
clouds dissolved and the blue sky reappeared pure and un- 
obscured ; it was not without emotion that men waited for 
the setting of the sun — especially as several aerial expedi- 
tions had succeeded in rising above the cloud-belts, and 
aeronauts had asserted that the comet was visibly larger. 
Telephone messages sent out from the mountains of Asia 
and America announced also its rapid approach. But 



.?o OMEGA. 

great was the surprise when at nightfall every eye was 
turned heavenward to seek the flaming star. It was no 
longer a comet, a classic comet such as one had seen 
before, but an aurora borealis of a new kind, a gigantic 
celestial fan, with seven branches, shooting into space 
seven greenish streamers, which appeared to issue from a 
point hidden below the horizon. 

No one had the slightest doubt but that this fantastical 
aurora borealis was the comet itself, a view confirmed by 
the fact that the former comet could not be found any- 
where among the starry host. The apparition differed, 
it is true, from all popularly known cometary forms, 
and the radiating beams of the mysterious visitor were, 
of all forms, the least expected. But these gaseous 
bodies are so remarkable, so capricious, so various, that 
everything is possible. Moreover, it was not the first 
time that a comet had presented such an aspect. Astron- 
omy contained among its records that of an immense 
comet observed in 1744, which at that time had been the 
subject of much discussion, and whose picturesque delin- 
eation, made de visu by the astronomer Chèzeaux, at 
Lausanne, had given it a wide celebrity. But even if 
nothing of this nature had been seen before, the evidence 
of one's eyes was indubitable. 

Meanwhile, discussions multiplied, and a veritable as- 
tronomical tournament was commenced in the scientific 
reviews of the entire world — the only journals which in- 



OMEGA . 



31 




t^antâtm dMfj^^ 



iiap^è* CAi^mmiàr 



Spired any confidence amid the epidemic of buying and 
selling which had for so long a time possessed humanity. 
The main question, now that there was no longer any 
doubt that the star was moving straight toward the 
earth, was its position from day to day, a question de- 
pending upon its velocity. The young computor of the 
Paris observatory, chief of the section of comets, sent 
every day a note to the official journal of the United 
States of Europe. 

A ver>' simple mathematical relation exists between 
the velocity of every comet and its distance from the sun. 
Knowing the fonner one can at once find the latter. In 
fact the velocity of the comet is simply the velocity of 
a planet multiplied by the square root of two. Now 



32 OMEGA, 

the velocity of a planet, whatever its distance, is deter- 
mined by Kepler's third law, according to which the 
squares of the times of revolution are to each other as 
the cubes of the distances. Nothing evidently, can be 
more simple. Thus, for example, the magnificent planet, 
Jupiter, moves about the sun with a velocity of 13,000 
meters per second. A comet at this distance moves, there- 
fore, with the above-mentioned velocity, multiplied by the 
square root of two, that is to say by the number 1.4142. 
This velocity is consequently 18,380 meters per second. 

The planet Mars revolves about the sun at the rate 
of 24,000 meters per second. At this distance the 
comet's velocity is 34,000 meters per second. 

The mean velocity of the earth in its orbit is 29,- 
460 meters per second, a little less in June, a little 
more in December. In the neighborhood of the earth, 
therefore, the velocity of the comet is 41,660 meters, in- 
dependently of the acceleration which the earth might 
occasion. 

These facts the laureate of the Institute called to the 
attention of the public which, moreover, already pos- 
sessed some general notions upon the theory of celes- 
tial mechanics. 

When the threatening star arrived at a distance from 
the sun equal to that of Mars, the popular fear was 
no longer a vague apprehension ; it took definite form^ 
based, as it was, upon the exact knowledge of the 



OMEGA. 



33 




comet's rate of approach. Thirty-four thousand meters 
per second meant 2040 kilometers per minute, or 122,- 
400 kilometers per hour ! 

As the- distance of the orbit of Mars from that of the 
earth is only 76,000,000 of kilometers, at the rate of 
122,400 kilometers an hour, this distance would be cov- 
ered in 621 hours, or about twenty-six days. But, as 
the comet approached the sun, its velocity would in- 
crease, since at the distance of the earth its velocity 
would be 41,660 meters per second. In virtue of this 
increase of speed, the distance between the two orbits 
would be traversed by a comet in 558 hours, or in 
twenty-three days, six hours. 



34 OMEGA, ^ 

But the earth at the moment of meeting with the 
comet, would not be exactly at that point of its orbit 
intersected by a line from the comet to the sun, be- 
cause the former was not advancing directly toward the 
latter; the collision, therefore, would not take place for 
nearly a week later, namely : at about midnight on Fri- 
day, the 13th of July. It is unnecessary to add that 
under such circumstances the usual arrangements for 
the celebration of the national fête of July i4tli had 
been forgotten. National fête ! No one thought of it. 
Was not that date far more likely to mark the univer- 
sal doom of men and things? As to that, the cele- 
bration by the French of the anniversary- of that fam- 
ous day had lasted — with some exceptions, it is true — 
for more than five centuries : even among the Romans 
anniversaries had never been observed for so long a pe- 
riod, and it was generally agreed that the 14th of July 
had outlived its usefulness. 

It was now Monday, the 8th of July. For five days 
the sky had been perfectly clear, and every night the 
fan-like comet hovered in the sky depths, its head, or 
nucleus, distinctly visible and dotted with luminous 
points which might well be solid bodies several kilo- 
meters in diameter, and which, according to the calcu- 
lations, would be the first to strike the earth, the tail 
being in a direction away from the sun and in the pres- 
ent instance behind and obliquely situated with refer- 



OMEGA, 35 

ence to the direction of motion. The new star blazed 
in the constellation of Pisces. According to observa- 
tions taken on the preceding evening, July 8th, its ex- 
act position was: right ascension, 23h., lom., 32s.; dec- 
lination north, 7°, 36', 4". The tail lay entirely across 
the constellation of Pegasus. The comet rose at çh., 
49m. and was visible all night long. 

During the lull of which we have spoken, a change 
in public opinion had occurred. From a series of retro- 
spective calculations an astronomer had proved that the 
earth had already on several occasions encountered com- 
ets, and that each time the only result had been a 
harmless shower of shooting stars. But one of his col- 
leagues had replied that the present comet could not 
in any sense be compared to a swarm of meteors, that 
it was gaseous, with a nucleus composed of solid bodies 
and he had in this connection recalled the observations 
made upon a comet famous in history, that of 181 1. 

This comet of 181 1 justified, in a certain respect, a 
real apprehension. Its dimensions were recalled to 
mind: its length of 180,000,000 kilometers, that is to 
say, a distance greater than that of the earth from the 
sun ; and the width of its tail at its extreme point, 
24,000,000 kilometers. The diameter of its nucleus 
measured 1,800,000 kilometers, forty thousand times that 
of the earth, and its nebulous and remarkably regular 
elliptical head was a spot brilliant as a star, having 



j6 OMEGA. 

itself a diameter of no less than 200,000 kilometers. 
The spot appeared to be of great density. It was ob- 
served for sixteen months and twenty-two days. But 
the most remarkable feature of this comet was the im- 
mense development to which it attained without ap- 
proaching very close to the sun ; for it did not reach 
a point nearer than 150,000,000 kilometers, and thus 
remained more than 170,000,000 kilometers from the 
earth. As the size of comets increases as they near 
the sun, if this one had experienced to a greater de- 
gree the solar action, its appearance would certainly 
have been still more wonderful, and, doubtless, terrify- 
ing to the observer. And as its mass was far from 
insignificant, if it had fallen directly into the sun, its 
velocity, accelerated to the rate of five or six hundred 
thousand meters per second at the moment of collision, 
might, by the transformation of mechanical energy into 
thermal energy, have suddenly increased the solar radia- 
tions to such a degree as to have utterly destroyed in 
a few days every trace of vegetable and animal life 
upon the earth. 

A physicist, indeed, had made this curious remark, 
that a comet of the same size as that of 181 1, or 
greater, might thus bring about the end of the world 
without actual contact, by a sort of expulsion of solar 
light and heat, analogous to that observed in the case 
of temporary stars. The impact would, indeed, give 



O ME GA. 37 

rise to a quantity of heat six times as great as that 
which would be produced by the combustion of a mass 
of coal equal to the mass of the comet. 

It had been shown that if such a comet in its 
flight, instead of falling into the sun, should collide 
with our planet, the end of the world would be by 
fire. If it collided with Jupiter it would raise the 
temperature of that globe to such a point as to restore 
to it its lost light, and to make it for a time a sun 
again, so that the earth would be lighted by two suns, 
Jupiter becoming a sort of minor night-sun, far brighter 
than the moon, and shining by its own light — of a 
ruby-red or garnet color, revolving about the earth in 
twelve years. A nocturnal sun ! That is to say, no 
more real night for the earth. 

The most classical astronomical treatises had been 
consulted ; chapters on comets written by Newton, 
Halley, Maupertuis, Lalande, Laplace, Arago, Faye, 
Newcomb, Holden, Denning, Robert Ball, and their 
successors, had been re-read. The opinion of Laplace 
had made the deepest impression and his language had 
been textually cited : " The earth's axis and rotary 
motion changed ; the oceans abandoning their old-time 
beds, to rush toward the new equator; the majority of 
men and animals overwhelmed by this universal deluge, 
or destroyed by the violent shock ; entire species an- 
nihilated ; every monument of human industry over- 



jS OMEGA, 

thrown ; such are the disasters which might result from 
collision with a comet.'' 

Thus discussion, researches into the past, calculations, 
conjectures succeeded each other. But that which made 
the deepest impression on every mind was first that, 
as proved by observation, the present comet had a 
nucleus of considerable density, and second, that car- 
bonic-oxide gas was unquestionably the chief chemical 
constituent. Fear and terror resumed their sway. Noth- 
ing else was thought of, or talked about, but the 
comet. Already inventive minds sought some way, 
more or less practicable, of evading the danger. Chem- 
ists pretended to be able to preserve a part of the 
oxygen of the atmosphere. Methods were devised for 
the isolation of t'lis gas from the nitrogen and its stor- 
age in immetxie vessels of glass hermetically sealed. 
A clever pharnacist asserted that he had condensed 
it in pastiles, and in a fortnight expended eight mill- 
ions in advertising. Thus commerce made capital out 
of everything, even universal death. All hope was not, 
however, abandoned. People disputed, trembled, grew 
anxious, shuddered, died even — but hoped on. 

The latest news was to the effect that the comet, 
developing, as it approached the thermal and electric 
influences of the sun, would have at the moment of 
impact a diameter sixty-five times that of the earth, or 
828,000 kilometers. 



OMEGA. 



39 



It was in the midst of this state of general anxiety 
that the session of the Institute, whose utterance was 
awaited as the last word of an oracle, was opened. 

The director of the observatory of Paris was natur- 
ally to be the first speaker ; but what 3eemed to ex- 
cite the greatest interest in the public was the opinion 
of the president of the academy of medicine on the 
probable effects of carbonic-oxide. The president of 
the geological society of France was also to make an 
address, and the general object of the session was to 
pass in review all the possible ways in which our 
earth might come to an end. Evidently, however, the 
discussion of its collision with the comet would hold 
the first place. 

As we have just seen, the threatening star hung 
above every head ; everybody could see it ; it was 
growing larger day by day ; it was approaching with 
an increasing velocity ; it was known to be at a dis- 
tance of only 17,992,000 kilometers, and that this dis- 
tance would be passed , ' v V/ *i 
over in five days. Every 
hour brought this menac- 
ing hand, ready to strike, 
149,000 kilometers near- 
er. In six days anxious 
humanity would breathe )|, 



freely 



not at all. 




FRIGHTENED WATCHERS. 




A GROUP OP LISTENERS. 



CHAPTER III. 



Never, within the history of man, had the immense 
hémicycle, constructed at the end of the twentieth cen- 
tury, been invaded by so compact a crowd. It would 
have been mechanically impossible for another person 
to force an entrance. The amphitheater, the boxes, the 
tribunes, the galleries, the aisles, the stairs, the corridors, 
the doorways, all, to the very steps of the platform, 
were filled with people, sitting or standing. Among 
the audience were the president of the United States 
of Europe, the director of the French republic, the di- 
rectors of the Italian and Iberian republics, the chief 
ambassador of India, the ambassadors of the British, 
German, Hungarian and Muscovite republics, the king 
of the Congo, the president of the committee of ad- 



OMEGA , 



4T 



ministrators, all the ministers, the prefect of the inter- 
national exchange, the cardinal-archbishop of Paris, the 
director-general of telephones, the president of the coun- 
cil of aerial navigation and electric roads, the director 
of the international bureau of time, the principal as- 
tronomers, chemists, physiologists and physicians of 
France, a large number of state officials (formerly called 
deputies or senators), many celebrated writers and art- 
ists, in a word, a rarely assembled galaxy of the rep- 
resentatives of science, politics, commerce, industry, lit- 
erature and every sphere of human activity. The plat- 
form was occupied by the president, vice-presidents, 
permanent secretaries and orators of the day, but they 
did not wear, as formerly, the green coat and chapeau 
or the old-fashioned sword, they were dressed simply 
in civil costume, and for 
two centuries and a half 
every European decoration 
had been suppressed ; those 
of central Africa, on the 
contrary, were of the most 
brilliant description. 

Domesticated monkeys, 
which for more than half a 
century had filled every 
place of service — impossible 
otherwise to provide for — 




A DOMESTICATED MONKEY. 



42 OMEGA. 

stood at the doors, in conformity to the regulations, 
rather than to verify the cards of admission ; for long 
before the hour fixed upon every place had been occupied. 

The president opened the session as follows (it is 
needless .to remind the reader that the language of 
the xxxvth century is here translated into that of the 
xixth) : 

*' Ladies and gentlemen : You all know the object 
for which we are assembled. Never, certainly, has hu- 
manity passed through such a crisis as this. Never, 
indeed, has this historic room of the twentieth centur\^ 
contained such an audience. The great problem of 
the end of the world has been for a fortnight the 
single object of discussion and study among savants. 
The results of their discussions and researches are now 
to be announced. Without further preamble I give 
place to the director of the observatory.'' 

The astronomer immediately arose, holding a few 
notes in his hand. He had an easy address, an agree- 
able voice, and a pleasant countenance. His gestures 
were few and his expression pleasing. He had a broad 
forehead and a magnificent head of curling, white hair 
framed his face. He was a man of learning and of 
culture, as well as of science, and his whole person- 
ality inspired both sympathy and respect. His tem- 
perament was evidently optimistic, even under circum- 
stances of great peril. Scarcely had he begun to speak 



OMEGA. 43 

when the mournful and anxious faces before him became 
suddenly calm and reassured. 

" Ladies," he began, ** I address myself first to you, 
begging you not to tremble in this way before a 
danger which may well be less terrible than it seems. 
I hope presently to convince you, by the arguments 
which I shall have the honor to lay before you, that 
the comet, whose approach is expected by the entire 
race, will not involve the total ruin of the earth. 
Doubtless, we may, and should, expect some catastro- 
phe, but as for the end of the world, really, every- 
thing would lead us to believe that it will not take 
place in this manner. Worlds die of old age, not by 
accident, and, ladies, you know better than I that the 
world is far from being old. 

"Gentlemen, I see before me representatives of every 
social sphere, from the highest to the most humble. 
Before a danger so apparent, threatening the destruc- 
tion of all life, it is not surprising that every busi- 
ness operation should be absolutely suspended. Never- 
theless, as for myself, I confess that if the bourse was 
not closed, and if I had never had the misfortune to 
be interested in speculation, I should not hesitate to- 
day to purchase securities which have fallen so low." 

This sentence was finished before a noted Amer- 
ican Israelite — a prince of finance — director of the 
journal The Twenty-fifth Century, occupying a seat on 



44 



OMEGA 



one of the upper steps of 
the amphitheater, forced 
his way, one hardly knows 
how, through the rows of 
benches, and rolled like a 
ball to the corridor leading 
to an exit, through which 
he disappeared. 

After the momentary in- 
terruption caused by this 
unexpected sequel to a 
purely scientific remark, 
the orator resumed : 

** Our subject," he said, 
" may be considered under 
three heads : i. Is the col- 
lision of the comet with 
the earth certain ? If this 
question is answered in 
the affirmative, we shall 

have to examine : 2. The nature of the comet, and, 3, 
the possible effects of a collision. I have no need to 
remind so intelligent an audience as this that the pro- 
phetic words * End of the world,' so often heard today, 
signify solely * End of the earth,' which moment indeed, 
of all others, has the most interest for us. 

" If we are able to answer the first question in the 




THE PRINCE OF FINANCE LEAVING 
THE INSTITUTE. 



OMEGA. 45 

negative, it will be quite superfluous to consider the 
other two, which would become of secondary interest. 

'^ Unfortunately, I must admit that the calculations 
of the astronomers are in this case, as usual, entirely 
correct. Yes, the comet will strike the earth, and, 
doubtless, with maximum force, since the impact will 
be direct. The velocity of the earth is 29,400 me- 
ters per second ; that of the comet is 41,660 meters, 
plus the acceleration due to the attraction of our 
planet. The initial velocity of contact, therefore, will 
be 72,000 meters per second. The collision, is inevit- 
able, with all its consequences, if the impact of the 
comet is direct; but it will be slightly oblique. But 
do not for this reason, take matters so to heart. In 
itself the collision proves nothing. If it were an- 
nounced, for example, that a railway train was to en- 
counter a swarm of flies, this prediction would not 
greatly trouble the traveller. It may well be that 
the collision of our earth with this nebulous star will 
be of the same nature. 

** Permit me how to examine, calmly, the two re- 
maining questions. 

'* First, what is the nature of the comet ? That 
everyone knows already ; it is a gas whose principal 
constituent is carbonic-oxide. Invisible under ordinary 
conditions, at the temperature of stellar space ( 273 
degrees below zero), this gas is in a state of vapor, 



4à OMEGA. 

even of solid particles. The comet is saturated with 
them. I shall not in this matter dispute in the least 
the discoveries of science." 

This confession deepened anew the painful expres- 
sion on the faces of most of the audience, and here a 
long sigh was drawn. 

** But, gentlemen," resumed the astronomer, ** until 
one of our eminent colleagues of the section of physi- 
ology, or of the academy of medicine, deigns to prove 
for us that the density of the comet is sufficient to 
admit of its penetration into our atmosphere, I do not 
believe that its presence is likely to exert a fatal in- 
fluence upon human life. I say is likely, for it is 
not possible to affirm this with certainty, although the 
probability is very great. One might perhaps wager a 
million to one. In any case, only those affected with 
weak lungs will be victims. It will be a simple influ- 
enza, which may increase three or five-fold the daily 
death rate. 

'* If, however, as the telescope and camera agree in 
indicating, the nucleus contains large mineral masses, 
probably of a metallic nature, uranolites, measuring 
several kilometers in diameter, and weighing some mill- 
ions of tons, one cannot but admit that the localities 
where these masses will fall, with the velocity referred 
to a moment ago, would be utterly destroyed. Let us 
observe, however, that three-fourths of the globe is 



OMEGA 



47 




• A FEW CITIES IN ASHES CANNOT ARREST THE HISTORY OF HUMANITY." 



covered with water." Here again is a contingency, not 
so important doubtless as the first, but, nevertheless, 
in our favor; these masses may perhaps fall into the 
sea, forming possibly new islands of foreign origin, 
bringing in any case elements new to science, and, it 
may be, germs of unknown life ; Geodesy would in 
this case be interested, and the form and rotary move- 
ment of the earth might be modified. Let us note 
also that not a few deserts mark the earth's surface. 
Danger exists, assuredly, but it is not overwhelming. 

** Besides these masses and these gases, perhaps also 
the bolides of which we were speaking, coming in 
clouds, will kindle conflagrations at various places on 
the continents ; dynamite, nitroglycerine, panclastite and 
royalite would be playthings in comparison with what 
may overtake us, but this- does not imply a universal 



4S OMEGA, 

cataclysm ; a few cities in ashes cannot arrest the his- 
tory of humanity. 

" You see, gentlemen, from this methodical examina- 
tion of the three points before us, it follows that the 
danger, while it exists, and is even imminent, is not so 
great, so overwhelming, so certain, as is asserted. I 
will even say more : this curious astronomical event, 
which sets so many hearts beating and fills with anx- 
iety so many minds, in the eyes of the philosopher 
scarcely changes the usual aspect of things. Each one 
of us must some day die, and this certainty does not 
prevent us from living tranquilly. Why should the 
apprehension of a somewhat more speedy death disturb 
the serenity of so many of us? Is the thought of our 
dying together so disagreeable? This should prove 
rather a consolation to our egotism. No, it is the 
thought that a stupendous catastrophe is to shorten our 
lives by a few days or years. Life is short, and each 
clings to the smallest fraction of it ; it would even 
seem, from what one hears, that each would prefer to 
see the whole world perish, provided he himself sur- 
vived, rather than die alone and know the world was 
saved. This is pure egoism. But, gentlemen, I am 
firm in the belief that this will be only a partial disas- 
ter, of the highest scientific importance, but leaving be- 
hind it historians to tell its story. There will be a col- 
lision, shock, and local ruin. It will be the history of 



OMEGA, 



49 



an earthquake, of a volcanic eruption, of a cyclone." 
Thus spoke the illustrious astronomer. The audience 
appeared satisfied, calmed, tranquillized — in part, at least. 
It was no longer the question of the absolute end of all 
things, but of a catastrophe, from which, after all, one 
would probably escape. Whispered murmurs of conver- 
sation were to be heard ; people confided to each other 
their impressions ; merchants and politicians even seemed 
to have perfectly understood the arguments advanced, 
when, at the invitation of the presiding officer, the presi- 
dent of the academy of medicine was seen advancing 
slowly toward the tribune. 

He was a tall man, spare, slender, erect, with a sallow 
face and ascetic appearance, and melancholy countenance 
— bald-headed, and 
wearing closely- 
trimmed, gray side- 
whiskers. His voice 
had something cadaver- 
ous about it, and his 
whole personality called 
to mind the undertaker 
rather than the physi- 
cian fired with the hope 
of curing his patients. 
His estimate of affairs 
was very different from - hk was a tall, spare man." 




50 OMEGA. 

that of the astronomer, as was apparent from the ver\' 
first word he uttered. 

*' Gentlemen/' said he, " I shall be as brief as the emi- 
nent savant to whom we have just listened, although I 
have passed many a night in analyzing, to the minutest 
detail, the properties of carbonic-oxide. It is about this 
gas that I shall speak to you, since science has demon- 
strated that it is the chief constituent of the comet, and 
that a collision with the earth is inevitable. 

" These properties are terrible ; why not confess it ? 
For the most infinitesimal quantity of this gas in the air 
we breathe is sufficient to arrest in three minutes the nor- 
mal action of the lungs and to destroy life. 

" Everybody knows that carbonic-oxide (known in 
chemistry as co) is a permanent gas without odor, color 
or taste, and nearly insoluble in water. Its density in 
comparison with the air is 0.96. It burns in the air with a 
blue flame of slight illuminating power, like a funereal fire, 
the product of this combustion being carbonic anhydride. 

** Its most notable property is its tendency to absorb 
oxygen. (The orator dwelt upon these two words with 
great emphasis.) In the great iron furnaces, for example, 
carbon, in the presence of an insufficient quantity of air, 
becomes transformed into carbonic-oxide, and it is sub- 
sequently this oxide which reduces the iron to a metallic 
state, by depriving it of the oxygen with which it was 
combined. 



OMEGA, 51 

" In the sunlight carbonic-oxide combines with chlorine 
and gives rise to an oxychlorine (COCL'') — a gas with a dis- 
agreeable, suffocating odor. 

" The fact which deserves our more serious attention, 
is that this gas is of the most poisonous character — far 
more so than carbonic anhydride. Its effect upon the he- 
moglobin is to diminish the respiratory capacity of the 
blood, and even in very small doses, by its cumulative 
effect, hinders, to a degree altogether out of proportion 
to the apparent cause, the oxygenizing properties of the 
blood. For example : blood which absorbs from twenty- 
three to twenty-four cubic centimeters of oxygen per hun- 
dred volumes, absorbs only one-half as much in an atmos- 
phere which contains less than one-thousandth part of 
carbonic-oxide. The one-ten-thousandth part even has a 
deleterious effect, sensibly diminishing the respiratory 
action of the blood. The result is not simple asphyxia, 
but an almost instantaneous blood-poisoning. Carbonic- 
oxide acts directly upon the blood corpuscles, combining 
with them and rendering them unfit to sustain life : hema- 
tosis, that is, the conversion of venous into arterial blood, 
is arrested. Three minutes are sufficient to produce death. 
The circulation of the blood ceases. The black venous 
blood fills the arteries as well as the veins. The latter, 
especially those of the brain, become surcharged, the sub- 
stance of the brain becomes punctured, the base of the 
tongue, the larynx, the wind-pipe, the bronchial tubes 



52 OMEGA. 

become red with blood, and soon the entire body pre- 
sents the characteristic purple appearance which results 
from the suspension of hematosis. 

• " But, gentlemen, the injurious properties of carbonic- 
oxide are not the only ones to be feared ; the mere ten- 
dency of this gas to absorb oxygen would bring about 
fatal results. To suppress, nay, even only to diminish 
oxygen, would suffice for the extinction of the human 
species. Everyone here present is familiar with that inci- 
dent which, with so many others, marks the epoch of bar- 
barism, when men assassinated each other legally in the 
name of glory and. of patriotism ; it is a simple episode 
of one of the English wars in India. Permit me to recall 
it to your memory : 

** One hundred and forty-six prisoners had been con- 
fined in a room whose only outlets were two small win- 
dows opening upon a corridor ; the first effect experienced 
by these unfortunate captives was a free and persistent 
perspiration, followed by insupportable thirst, and soon by 
great difficulty in breathing. They sought in various 
ways to get more room and air ; they divested themselves 
of their clothes ; they beat the air with their hats, and 
finally resorted to kneeling and rising together at inter- 
vals of a few seconds ; but each time some of those whose 
strength failed them fell and were trampled under the 
feet of their comrades. Before midnight, that is, during the 
fourth hour of their confinement, all who were still living, 



OMEGA 



53 




THE BLACK HOLE OP CALCUTTA. 



and who had not succeeded in obtaining purer air at the 
windows, had fallen into a lethargic stupor, or a frightful 
delirium. When, a few hours later, the prison door was 
opened, only twenty-three men came out alive ; they were 



54 OMEGA. 

in the most pitiable state imaginable ; every face wearing 
the impress of the death from which they had barely 
escaped. 

" I might add a thousand other examples, but it would 
be useless, for doubt upon this point is impossible. I 
therefore affirm, gentlemen, that, on the one hand, the 
absorption by the carbonic-oxide of a portion of the 
atmospheric oxygen, or, on the other, the powerfully 
toxic properties of this gas upon the vital elements of the 
blood, alike seem to me to give to the meeting of our 
globe with the immense mass of the comet — in the heart 
of which we shall be plunged for several hours — I affirm, 
I repeat, that this meeting involves consequences abso- 
lutely fatal. For my part, I see no chance of escape. 

" I have not spoken of the transformation of mechanical 
motion into heat, or of the mechanical and chemical con- 
sequences of the collision. I leave this aspect of the ques- 
tion to the permanent secretary of the academy of sciences 
and to the learned president of the astronomical society of 
France, who have made it the subject of important inves- 
tigations. As for me, I repeat, terrestrial life is in danger, 
and I see not one only, but two, three and four mortal 
perils confronting.it. Escape will be a miracle, and for 
centuries no one has believed in miracles.*' 

This speech, uttered with the tone of conviction, in a 
clear, calm and solemn voice, again plunged the entire 
audience into a state of mind from which the preceding 



OMEGA. 55 

address had, happily, released them. The certainty of the 
approaching disaster was painted upon every face ; some 
had become yellow, almost green ; others suddenly became 
scarlet and seemed on the verge of apoplexy. Some few 
among the audience appeared to have retained their self- 
possession, through scepticism or a philosophic effort to 
make the best of it. A vast murmur filled the room ; 
everyone whispered his opinions to his neighbor, opinions 
generally more optimistic than sincere, for no one likes to 
appear afraid. 

The president of the astronomical society of France rose 
in his turn and advanced toward the tribune. Instantly 
every murmur was hushed. Below we give the main 
points of his speech, including the opening remarks and 
the peroration : 

" Ladies and gentlemen : After the statements which 
we have just heard, no doubt can remain in any mind as 
to the certainty of the collision of the comet with the 
earth, and the dangers attending this event. We . must, 
therefore, expect on Saturday — '' 

" On Friday," interrupted a voice from the desk of the 
Institute. 

** On Saturday, I repeat,'' continued the orator, without 
noticing the interruption, " an extraordinary event, one 
absolutely unique in the history of the world. 

" I say Saturday, although the papers announce that 
the collision will take place on Friday, because it cannot 



§6 OMEGA. 

occur before July 14th. I passed the entire night with 
my learned colleague in comparing the observations re- 
ceived, and we discovered an error in their transmission." 

This statement produced a sensation of relief among the 
audience ; it was like a slender ray of light in the middle 
of a somber night. A single day of respite is of enormous 
importance to one condemned to death. Already chimer- 
ical projects formed in every mind ; the catastrophe was 
put off ; it was a kind of reprieve. It was not remem- 
bered that this diversion was of a purely cosmographie 
nature, relating to the date and not to the fact of the 
collision. But the least things play an important role in 
public opinion. So it was not to be on Friday ! 

" Here," he said, going to the black-board, " are the 
elements as finally computed from all the observations." 
The speaker traced upon the black-board the following 
figures : 

Perihelion passage August 11, at oh., 42m., 44s. 

Longitude of perihelion, 52°, 43', 25". 

Perihelion distance, 0.7607. v - * 

Inclination, 103°, 18', 35". 

Longitude of ascending node, 112°, 54', 40". 

" The comet," he resumed, ** will cross the ecliptic in 
the direction of the descending node 28 minutes, 23 sec- 
onds after midnight of July 14th just as the earth reaches 
the point of crossing. The attraction of the earth will 
advance the moment of contact by only thirty seconds. 



OMEGA. 57 

" The event, doubtless, will be altogether exceptional, 
but I do not believe either, that it will be of so tragical a 
nature as has been depicted, or that it can really bring 
about blood poison or universal asphyxia. It will rather 
present the appearance of a brilliant display of celestial 
fire-works, for the arrival in the atmosphere of these solid 
and gaseous bodies cannot occur without the conversion 
into heat of the mechanical motion thus destroyed ; a 
magnificent illumination of the sky will doubtless be the 
first phenomenon. 

" The heat evolved must necessarily be very great. 
Every shooting star, however small, entering the upper 
limits of our atmosphere with a cometary velocity, imme- 
diately becomes so hot that it takes fire and is consumed. 
You know, gentlemen, that the earth's atmosphere ex- 
tends far into space about our planet ; not without limit, 
as certain hypotheses declare, since the earth turns on its 
axis and moves about the sun : the mathematical limit is 
that height at which the centrifugal force engendered by 
the diurnal motion becomes equal to the weight ; 

this height is 6.64 times the equatorial radius of the earth, 
the latter being 6,378,310 meters. The maximum height 
of the atmosphere, therefore, is 35,973 kilometers. 

'' I do not here wish to enter into a mathematical dis- 
cussion. But the audience before me is too well informed 
not to know the mechanical equivalent of heat. Every 
body whose motion is arrested produces a quantity of heat 



58 OMEGA, 

expressed in caloric units by mv' divided by 8338, in 
which m is the mass of the body in kilograms and v its 
velocity in meters per second. For example, a body 
weighing 8338 kilograms, moving with a velocity of one 
meter per second, would produce, if suddenly stopped, 
exactly one heat unit ; that is to say, the quantity of heat 
necessary to raise one kilogram of water one degree in 
temperature. 

" If the velocity of the body be 500 meters per second, 
it would produce 250,000 times as much heat, or enough 
to raise a quantity of water of equal mass from o® to 30°. 

'* If the velocity were 5000 meters per second, the heat 
developed would be 5,000,000 times as great. 

" Now, you know, gentlemen, that the velocity with 
which a comet may reach the earth is 72,000 meters 
per second. At this figure the temperature becomes five 
milliards of degrees. 

" This, indeed, is the maximum and, I should add, a 
number altogether inconceivable ; but, gentlemen, let us 
take the minimum, if it be your pleasure, and let us admit 
that the impact is not direct, but more )r less oblique, and 
that the mean velocity is not greater than 30,000 meters 
per second. Every kilogram of a bolide would develop in 
this case 107,946 heat units before its velocity would be 
destroyed by the resistance of the air ; in other words, it 
would generate sufficient heat to raise the temperature of 
1079 kilograms of water from 0° to 100° — that is, from 



OMEGA. 59 

the freezing to the boiling point. A uranolite weighing 
2000 kilograms would thus, before reaching the earth, 
develop enough heat to raise the temperature of a column 
of air, whose cross-section is thirty square meters and 
whose height is equal to that of our atmosphere, 3000®, or, 
to raise from 0° to 30° a column whose cross-section is 
3000 square meters. 

" These calculations, for the introduction of which I 
crave your pardon, are necessary to show that the imme- 
diate consequence of the collision will be the production 
of an enormous quantity of heat, and, therefore, a consider- 
able rise in the temperature of the air. This is exactly 
what takes place on a small scale in the case of a single- 
meteorite, which becomes melted and covered superficially 
by a thin layer of vitrified matter, resembling varnish. 
But its fall is so rapid that there is not sufficient time for 
it to become heated to the center ; if broken, its interior is 
found to be absolutely cold. It is the surrounding air 
which has been heated. 

" One of the most curious results of the analysis which I 
have just had the honor to lay before you, is that the solid 
masses which, it is believed, have been seen by the tele- 
scope in the nucleus of the comet, will meet with such re- 
sistance in traversing our atmosphere that, except in rare 
instances, they will not reach the earth entire, but in 
small fragments. There will be a compression of the air 
in front of the bolide, a vacuum behind it, a superficial 



6o 



OMEGA 



heating and incandescence of the moving body, a roar 
produced by the air rushing into the vacuum, the roll of 
thunder, explosions, the fall of the denser metallic por- 
tions and the evaporation of the remainder. A bolide 
of sulphur, of phosphorus, of tin or of zinc, would be 
consumed and dissipated long before reaching the lower 
strata of our atmosphere. As for the shooting stars, if. 




MAKING FOR THE ANTIPODES. 



as seems probable, there is a veritable cloud of them, they 
will only produce the effect of a vast inverted display of 
fire-works. 

" If, therefore, there is any reason for alarm, it is not, in 
my opinion, because we are to apprehend the penetration 
of the gaseous mass of carbonic-oxide into our atmosphere, 
but a rise in temperature, which cannot fail to result from 



OMEGA. 61 

the transformation of mechanical motion into heat. If 
this be so, safety may be perhaps attained by taking refuge 
on the side of the globe opposed to that which is to expe- 
rience the direct shock of the comet, for the air is a very 
bad conductor of heat." 

The permanent secretary of the academy rose in his turn. 
A worthy successor to the Fontenelles and Aragos of the 
past, he was not only a man of profound knowledge, but 
also an elegant writer and a persuasive orator, rising some- 
times even to the highest flights of eloquence. 

** To the theory which we have just heard," he said, " I 
have nothing to add ; I can only apply it to the case of 
some comet already known. Let us suppose, for example, 
that a comet of the dimensions of that of 1811 should col- 
lide squarely with the earth in its path about the sun. 
The terrestrial ball would penetrate the nebula of the 
comet without experiencing any very sensible resistance. 
Admitting that this resistance is very slight, and that the 
density of the comet's nucleus may be neglected, the pas- 
sage of the earth through the head of a comet of 1,800,000 
kilometers in diameter, would require at least 25,000 sec- 
onds — that is, 417 minutes, or six hours, fifty-seven min- 
utes — in round numbers, seven hours — the velocity being 
120 times greater than that of a cannon-ball; and the 
earth continuing to rotate upon its axis, the collision 
would commence about six o'clock in the morning. 

" Such a plunge into the cometary ocean, however ran- 



62 



OMEGA . 




OMEGA, 63 

fied it might be, could not take place without producing 
as a first and immediate consequence, by reason of the 
thermodynamic principles which have been just called to 
your attention, a rise in temperature such that probably 
our entire atmosphere would take fire ! It seems to me 
that in this particular case the danger would be very 
serious. 

'* But it would be a fine spectacle for the inhabitants of 
Mars, and a finer one still for those of Venus. Yes, that 
would indeed be a magnificent spectacle, analogous to 
those we have ourselves seen in the heavens, but far more 
splendid to our near neighbors. 

" The oxygen of the air would prove insufficient to 
maintain the combustion, but there is another gas which 
physicists do not often think of, for the simple reason that 
they have never found it in their analyses — hydrogen. 
What has become of all the hydrogen freed from the soil 
these millions of years which have elapsed since pre- 
historic times? The density of this gas being one-six- 
teenth that of the air, it must have ascended, forming a 
highly rarified hydrogen envelope above our atmosphere. 
In virtue of the law of diffusion of gases, a large part of 
this hydrogen would become mixed with the atmosphere, 
but the upper air layers must contain a considerable portion 
of it. There, doubtless, at an elevation of more than one 
hundred kilometers, the shooting stars take fire, and the 
aurora borealis is lighted. Notice here that the oxygen 



04 OMEGA. 

of the air would furnish the carbon of the comet ample 
material during collision to feed the celestial fire. 

" Thus the destruction of the world will result from the 
combustion of the atmosphere. For about seven hours — 
probably a little longer, as the resistance to the comet can- 
not be neglected — there will be a continuous transfonnation 
of motion into a heat. The hydrogen and the oxygen, com- 
bining with the carbon of the comet, will take fire. The 
temperature of the air will be raised several hundred de- 
grees ; woods, gardens, plants, forests, habitations, edifices, 
cities, villages, will all be rapidly consumed ; the sea, the 
lakes and the rivers will begin to boil ; men and animals, 
enveloped in the hot breath of the comet, will die asphyx- 
iated before they are burned, their gasping lungs inhaling 
only flame. Every corpse will be almost immediately car- 
bonized, reduced to ashes, and in this vast celestial fur- 
nace only the heart-rending voice of the trumpet of the 
indestructible angel of the Apocalypse will be heard, pro- 
claiming from the sky, like a funeral knell, the antique 
death-song : * Sol vet saeculum in favilla.' This is what 
may happen if a comet like that of- 1811 collides with the 
earth." 

At these words the cardinal-archbishop rose from his 
seat and begged to be heard. The astronomer, perceiving 
him, bowed with a courtly grace and seemed to await the 
reply of his eminence. 

" I do not desire,'' said the latter, " to interrupt the 



OMEGA, 65 

honorable speaker, but if science announces that the drama 
of the end of the world is to be ushered in by the destruc- 
tion of the heavens by fire, I cannot refrain from saying 
that this has always been the universal belief of the 
church. ' The heavens,' says St. Peter, ' shall pass away 
with a great noise, and the elements shall meet with fer- 
vent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein 
shall be burned up.' St. Paul affirms also its renovation 
by fire, and we repeat daily at mass his words : * Eum 
qui venturus est judicare vivos et mortuos et saeculum per 
ignem.' " 

" Science," replied the astronomer, *' has more than once 
been in accord with the prophecies of our ancestors. Fire 
will first devour that portion of the globe struck by the 
huge mass of the comet, consuming it before the inhabi- 
tants of the other hemisphere realize the extent of the 
catastrophe ; but the air is a bad conductor of heat, and 
the latter will not be immediately propagated to the oppo- 
site hemisphere. 

*' If our latitude were to receive the first shock of the 

kpmet, reaching us, we will suppose, in summer, the tropic 

of Cancer, Morocco, Algeria, Tunis, Greece and Egypt 

would be found in the front of the celestial onset, while 

Australia, New Caledonia and Oceanica would be the most 

favored. But the rush of air into this European furnace 

would be such that a storm more violent than the most 

frightful hurricane and more formidable even than the air- 

5 



66 OMEGA, 

current which moves continuously on the equator of Jupi- 
ter, with a velocity of 4oo,cxx) kilometers per hour, would 
rage from the Antipodes towards Europe, destroying 
everything in its path. The earth, turning upon its axis, 
would bring successively into the line of collision, the 
regions lying to the west of the meridian first blasted. 
An hour after Austria and Germany it would be the turn 
of France, then of the Atlantic ocean, then of North 
America, which would enter somewhat obliquely the 
dangerous area about five or six hours after France — 
that is, towards the end of the collision. 

" Notwithstanding the unheard-of velocities of the comet 
and the earth, the pressure cannot be enormous, in view 
of the extremely rarified state of the matter traversed by 
the earth ; but this matter, containing so much carbon, is 
combustible, and at perihelion these bodies are not infre- 
quently seen to shine by their own as well as by reflected 
light : they become incandescent. What, then, must be 
the result of a collision wàth the earth ? The combustion 
of meteorites and bolides, the superficial fusion of the 
uranolites which reach the earth's surface on fire, all lead 
us to believe that the moment of greatest heat will be that 
of contact, which evidently will not prevent the massive 
elements forming the nucleus of the comet from crushing 
the localities where they fall, and perhaps even breaking 
up an entire continent. 

" The terrestrial globe being thus entirely surrounded 



OMEGA, 



67 




DEATH BY SUFFOCATION, 



68 OMEGA. 

by the cometary mass for nearly seven hours, and revolv- 
ing in this incandescent gas, the air rushing violently 
toward the center of disturbance, the sea boiling and fill- 
ing the atmosphere with new vapors, hot showers falling 
from the sky-cataracts, the storm raging everywhere with 
electric deflagrations and lightnings, the rolling of thunder 
heard above the scream of the tempest, the blessed light of 
former days having been succeeded by the mournful and 
sickly gleamings of the glowing atmosphere, the whole 
earth will speedily resound with the funeral knell of 
universal doom, although the fate of the dwellers in the 
Antipodes will probably differ from that of the rest of 
mankind. Instead of being immediately consumed, they 
will be stifled by the vapors, by the excess of nitrogen — 
the oxygen having been rapidly abstracted — or poisoned 
by carbonic-oxide ; the fire will afterwards reduce their 
corpses to ashes, while the inhabitants of Europe and 
Africa, will have been burned alive. 

" The well-known tendency of carbonic-oxide to absorb 
oxygen will doubtless prove a sentence of instant death 
for those farthest from the initial point of the catas- 
trophe. 

** I have taken as an example the comet of 1811 ; but I 
hasten to add that the present one appears to be far less 
dense." 

" Is it absolutely sure ? '' cried a well-known voice (that 
of an illustrious member of the chemical society) from one 



OMEGA. 6ç 

of the boxes. "Is it absolutely sure the comet is com- 
posed chiefly of carbonic-oxide ? Have not the nitrogen 
lines also been detected in its spectrum ? If it should 
prove to be protoxide of nitrogen, the consequence of its 
mixture with our atmosphere might be anaesthesia. Every 
one would be put to sleep — perhaps forever, if the suspen- 
sion of the vital functions were to last but a little longer 
than is the case in our surgical operations. It would be 
the same if the comet was composed of chloroform or 
ether. That would be an end calm indeed. 

" It would be less so if the comet should absorb the 
nitrogen instead of the oxygen, for this partial or total 
absorption of nitrogen would bring about, in a few hours, 
for all the inhabitants of the earth — for men and women, 
for the young and the aged — a change of temperament, 
involving at first nothing disagreeable — a charming so- 
briety, then gayety, followed by universal joy, a feverish 
exultation, finally delirium and madness, terminating, in 
all probability, by the sudden death of eVery human being 
in the apotheosis of a wild saturnalia, an unheard-of frenzy 
of the senses. Would that death be a sad one ? " 

" The discussion remains open,'' replied the secretary. 
" What I have said of the possible consequences of a col- 
lision applies to the direct impact of a comet like that of 
1811 ; the one that threatens us is less colossal, and its 
impact will not be direct, but oblique. In common with 
the astronomers who have preceded me on this floor, I 



72 



OMEGA 




CHAPTER IV. 

The multitude stationed without the doors of the In- 
stitute had made way for those coming out, every one 
being eager to learn the particulars of the session. 
Already the general result had in some way become 
known, for immediately after the speech of the direc- 
tor of the Paris observatory the rumor got abroad that 
the collision with the comet would not entail conse- 
quences so serious as had been anticipated. Indeed, 
large posters had just been placarded throughout Paris, 
announcing the reopening of the Chicago stock exchange. 
This was an encouraging and unlooked for indication of 
the resumption of business and the revival of hope. 

This is what had taken place. The financial magnate, 
whose abrupt exit will be remembered by the reader 
of these pages, after rolling like a ball from the top 
to the bottom row of the hémicycle, had rushed in 
an aero-cab to his office on the boulevard St. Cloud, 
where he had telegraphed to his partner in Chicago 
that new computations had just been given out by the 
Institute of France, that the gravity of the situation 
had been exaggerated, and that the resumption of bus- 
iness was imminent ; he urged, therefore, the opening 
of the central American exchange at any cost, and the 
purchase of every security offered, whatever its nature. 
When it is five o'clock at Paris it is eleven in the 



74 OMEGA, 

morning at Chicago. The financier received the de- 
spatch from his cousin while at breakfast. He found 
no difficulty in arranging for the reopening of the 
exchange and invested several millions in securities. 
The news of the resumption of business in Chicago 
had been at once made public, and although it was 
too late to repeat the same game in Paris, it was pos- 
sible to prepare new plans for the morrow. The public 
had innocently believed in a spontaneous and genuine 
revival of business in America, and this fact, together 
with the satisfactory impression made by the session of 
the Institute, was sufficient to rekindle the fires of hope. 

No less interest, however, was manifested in the even- 
ing session than in that of the afternoon, and but for 
the exertions of an extra detachment of the French 
guard it would have been impossible for those enjoying 
Special privileges to gain admission. Night had come, 
and with it the flaming comet, larger, more brilliant, and 
more threatening than ever ; and if, perhaps, one-half 
the assembled multitude appeared somewhat tranquil- 
lized, the remaining half was still anxious and fearful. 

The audience was substantially the same, every one 
being eager to know at first hand the issue of this 
general public discussion of the fate of the planet, 
conducted by accredited and eminent scientists, whether 
its destruction was to be the result of an extraordinary 
accident such as now threatened it, or of the natural 



OMEGA. 75 

process of decay. But it was noticed that the cardinal 
archbishop of Paris was absent, for he had been sum- 
moned suddenly to Rome by the Pope to attend an 
œcumenical council, and had left that very evening 
by the Paris-Rome-Palermo-Tunis tube. 

" Gentlemen," said the president, ** the translation of 
the despatch received at the observatory of Gaurisankar 
from Mars has not arrived yet, but we shall open the 
session at once, in order to hear the important com- 
munication previously announced, which the president 
of the geological society, and the permanent secretary 
of the academy of meteorology, have to make to us." 

The former of these gentlemen was already at the 
desk. His remarks, stenographically reproduced by a 
young geologist of the new school, were as follows : 

" The immense crowd gathered within these walls, 
the emotion I see depicted upon every face, the im- 
patience with which you await the discussions yet to 
take place, all, gentlemen, would lead me to refrain 
from laying before you the opinion which I have 
formed from my own study of the problem which now 
excites the interest of the entire world, and to yield 
the platform to those gifted with an imagination or 
an audacity greater than mine. For, in my judgment, 
the end of the world is not at hand, and humanity 
will have to wait for it several million years — yes, 
gentlemen, I said millions^ not thousands. 



76 



OMEGA 



" You see that I am at this moment perfectly calm, and 
that, too, without laying any claim to the sang froid 
of Archimedes, who was slain by a Roman soldier at 
the siege of Syracuse while calmly tracing geometric fig- 
urés upon the sand. Archimedes knew the danger and 
forgot it ; I do not believe in any danger whatever. 

"You will not then be surprised if I quietly sub- 
mit to you the theory of a natural end of the world, 
by the gradual levelling of the continents and their slow 
submergence beneath the invading waters ; but I shall 
perhaps do better to postpone for a week this explanation, 
as I do not for an instant doubt that we may all, or 
nearly all, reassemble here to confer together upon the 
great epochs of the natural history of the world." 

The orator paused for a moment. The president had risen : 
*' My dear and honorable colleague," he said, "we are all here 



to listen to you. 
ic of the last few 
allayed, and it is 
the night of July 
like its predecess- 
we are more than 
in all which has 
this great problem 
to no one with 
than to the illus- 
the classic Treat- 




ARCHIMEDES. 



Happily, the pan- 
days is partially 
to be hoped that 
13-14 will pass 
ors. Nevertheless, 
ever interested 
any bearing upon 
and we shall listen 
greater pleasure 
trious author of 
ise on Geology." 



OMEGA. 77 

" In that case, gentlemen," resumed the president of 
the geological society of France, " I shall explain to 
you what, in my judgment, will be the natural end 
of the world, if, as is probable, nothing disturbs the 
present course of events; for accidents are rare in the 
cosmical order. 

"Nature does not proceed by sudden leaps, and geol- 
ogists do not believe in such revolutions or cata- 
clysms ; for they have learned that in the natural 
world everything is subject to a slow process of evo- 
lution. The geological agents now at work are per- 
manent ones. 

"The destruction of the globe by some great catas- 
trophe is a dramatic conception ; far more so, certainly, 
than that of the action of the forces now in operation, 
though they threaten our planet with a destruction 
equally certain. Does not the stability of our continent 
seem permanent? Except through the intervention of 
some new agency, how is it possible to doubt the durabil- 
ity of this earth which has supported so many generations 
before our own, and whose monuments, of the greatest 
antiquity, prove that if they have come down to us in a 
state of ruin, it is not because the soil has refused to 
support them, but because they have suffered from the rav- 
ages of time and especially from the hand of man ? The 
oldest historical traditions show us rivers flowing in the 
same beds as today, mountains rising to the same height ; and 



7S OMEGA, 

as for the few river-mouths which have become obstructed, 
the few land-slides which have occurred here and there, 
their importance is so slight relatively to the enormous ex- 
tent of the continents, that it seems gratuitous indeed to 
seek here the omens of a final catastrophe. 

" Such might be the reasoning of one who casts a super- 
ficial and indifferent glance upon the external world. But 
the conclusions of one accustomed to scrutinize closely the 
apparently insignificant changes taking place about him 
would be quite different. At every step, however little 
skilled in observation, he will discover the traces of a- per- 
petual conflict between the external powers of nature and 
all which rises above the inflexible level of the ocean, in 
whose depths reign silence and repose. Here, the sea 
beats furiously against the shore, which recedes slowly 
from century to century. Elsewhere, mountain masses 
have fallen, engulfing in a few moments entire villages 
and desolating smiling valleys. Or, the tropical rains, as- 
sailing the volcanic cones, have furrowed them with deep 
ravines and undermined their walls, so that at last nothing 
but ruins of these giants remain. 

*^ More silent, but not less efficacious, has been the 
action of the great rivers, as the Ganges and the Missis- 
sippi, whose waters are so heavily laden with solid parti- 
cles in suspension. Each of these small particles, which 
trouble the limpidity of their liquid carrier, is a fragment 
torn from the shores washed by these rivers. Slowly but 



OMEGA 



79 




THE SBA AT WORK. 



8o 



OMEGA . 




STREAM EROSION. 



OMEGA, 8t 

surely their currents bear to the great reservoir of the sea 
every atom lost to the soil, and the bars which form their 
deltas are as nothing compared with what the sea receives 
and hides away in its abysses. How can any reflecting 
person, observing this action, and knowing that it has 
been going on for many centuries, escape the conclusion 
that the rivers, like the ocean, are indeed preparing the 
final ruin of the habitable world ? 

"Geology confirms this conclusion in every particular. 
It shows us that the surface of the soil is being constantly 
altered over entire continents by variations of temperature, 
by alterations of drought and humidity, of freezing and 
thawing, as also by the incessant action of worms and of 
plants. Hence, a continuous process of dissolution, leading 
even to the disintegration of the most compact rocks, re- 
ducing them to fragments small enough to yield at last 
to the attraction of gravity, especially when this is aided 
by running water. Thus they travel, first down the slopes 
and along the torrent beds, where their angles are worn 
away and they become little by little transformed into 
gravel, sand and ooze; then in the rivers which are still 
able, especially at flood-times, to carry away this broken 
up material, and to bear it nearer and nearer to their 
outlets. 

" It is easy to predict what must necessarily be the final 
result of this action. Gravity, always acting, will not be 
satisfied until every particle subject to its law has attained 

6 



S2 



OMEGA 




AT FLOOD-TIME. 



the most stable position conceivable. Now, such will be the 
case only when matter is in the lowest position possible. 
Every surface, must therefore disappear, except the surface 
of the ocean, which is the goal of every agency of motion ; 
and the material borne away from the crumbling conti- 
nents must in the end be spread over the bottom of the 
sea. In brief, the final outcome will be the complete lev- 
elling of the land, or, more exactly, the disappearance of 
every prominence from the surface of the earth. 



OMEGA. 83 

"In the first place, we readily see that near the river 
mouths the final form of the dry land will be that of nearly 
horizontal plains. The effect of the erosion produced by 
running water will be the formation on the water-sheds of 
a series of sharp ridges, succeeded by almost absolutely 
horizontal plains, between which no final difference in 
height greater than fifty meters can exist. 

" But in no case can these sharp ridges, which, on this 
hypothesis, will separate the basins, continue long; for 
gravity and the action of the wind, filtration and change 
of temperature, will soon obliterate them. It is thus legit- 
imate to conclude that the end of this erosion of the conti- 
nents will be their reduction to an absolute level^ a level 
differing but little from that at the river outlets." 

The coadjutor of the archbishop of Paris, who occupied 
a seat in the tribune reserved for distinguished function- 
aries, rose, and, as the orator ceased speaking, added : 
" Thus will be fulfilled, to the letter, the words of holy 
writ : * For the mountains shall depart and the hills be 
removed.' " 

" If, then," resumed the geologist, " nothing occurs to 
modify the reciprocal action of land and water, we cannot 
escape the conclusion that every continental elevation is 
inevitably destined to disappear. 

" How much time will this require? 

"The dry land, if spread out in a layer of uniform 
thickness, would constitute a plateau of about 700 meters 



84 OMEGA. 

altitude above the sea-level. Admitting that its total area 
is i45,ocx),ocx) square kilometers, it follows that its volume 
is about 101,500,000, or, in round numbers, 100,000,000 
cubic kilometers. Such is the large, yet definite mass, with 
which the external agencies of destruction must contend. 
" Taken together, the rivers of the world may be 
considered as emptying, every year, into the sea 23,000 
cubic kilometers of water (in other words, 23,000 milliards 
of cubic meters). This would give a volume of solid 
matter carried yearly to the sea, equal to 10.43 cubic kilo- 
meters, if we accept the established ratio of thirty-eight 
parts of suspended material in 100,000 parts of water. 
The ratio of this amount to the total volume of the dry 
land is one to 9,730,000. If the dry land were a level 
plateau of 700 meters altitude, it would lose, by fluid 




THE RIVERS CEASE TO FLOW. 



OMEGA, 8s 

erosion alone, a slice of about seven one-hundredihs of a 
millimeter in thickness yearly^ or one millimeter every 
fourteen years — say seven millimeters per century. 

" Here we have a definite figure, expressing the actual 
yearly continental erosion, showing that, if only this 
erosion were to operate, the entire mass of unsubmerged 
land would disappear in less than lo^ooo^ooo years. 

" But rain and rivers are not the only agencies ; there 
are other factors which contribute to the gradual destruc- 
tion of the dry land : 

" First, there is the erosion of the sea. It is impossible 
to select a better example of this than the Britannic isles ; 
for they are exposed, by their situation, to the onslaught 
of the Atlantic, whose billows, driven by the prevailing 
southwest wind, meet with no obstacle to their progress. 
Now, the average recession of the English coast is cer- 
tainly less than three meters per century. Let us apply 
this rate to the sea-coasts of the world, and see what will 
happen. 

" We may proceed in two ways : First, we may estimate 
the loss in volume for the entire coast-line of the world, 
on the basis of three centimeters per year. To do this, 
we should have to know the length of the shore-line and 
the mean height of the coast. The former is about 
200,000 kilometers. As to the present average height of 
the coasts above the sea, 100 meters would certainly be a 
liberal estimate. Hence, a recession of three centimeters 



86 OMEGA. 

corresponds to an annual loss of three cubic meters per 
running meter, or, for the 200,000 kilometers of coast-line, 
600,000,000 cubic meters, which is only six-tenths of a 
cubic kilometer. In other words, the erosion due to the 
sea would only amount to one-seventeenth that of the 
rivers. 

"It may perhaps be objected, that, as the altitude 
actually increases from the coast-line toward the interior, 
the same rate of recession would, in time, involve a 
greater loss in volume. Is this objection well founded ? 
No ; for the tendency of the rain and water-courses being, 
as we have said, to lower the surface-level, this action 
would keep pace with that of the sea. 

"Again, the area of the dry land being 145,000,000 
square kilometers, a circle of equal area would have a 
radius of 6800 kilometers. But the circumference of this 
circle would be only 40,000 kilometers ; that is to say, the 
sea could exercise upon the circle but one-fifth the erosive 
action which it actually does upon the indented outline of 
our shores. We may, therefore, admit that the erosive 
action of the sea upon the dry land is five times greater 
than it would be upon an equivalent circular area. Cer- 
tainly this estimate is a maximum ; for it is logical to 
suppose that, when the narrow peninsulas have been eaten 
away by the sea, the ratio of the perimeter to the surface 
will decrease more and more — that is, the action of the 
sea will be less effective. In any event, since, at the rate 



OMEGA . 



S? 



of three centimeters per year, a radius of 6800 kilometers 
would disappear in 226,600,000 years, one-fifth of this 
interval, or about 45,000,000 years, would represent the 
minimum time necessary for the destruction of the land 
by the sea ; this would correspond to an intensity of 
action scarcely more than one-fifth that of the rivers and 
rain. 

" Taken together, these mechanical causes would, there- 
fore, involve every year a loss in volume of twelve cubic 
kilometers, which, for a total of 100,000,000, would bring 
about the complete submergence of the dry land in a little 
more than Sfioofioo years, 

" But we are far from having exhausted our analysis of the 
phenomena in question. Water is not only a mechanical 
agent ; it is also a powerful dissolvent, far more powerful 
than we might suppose, because of the large amount of 
carbonic acid which it absorbs either from the atmos- 
phere or from the decomposed organic matter of the soil. 
All subterranean waters become charged with substances 




88 OMEGA. 

which it has thus chemically abstracted from the minerals 
of the rocks through which it percolates. 

" River water contains, per cubic kilometer, about 182 
tons of matter in solution. The rivers of the world bring 
yearly to the sea, nearly Jive cubic kilometers of such 
matter. The annual loss to the dry land, therefore, from 
these various causes, is seventeen instead of twelve cubic 
kilometers ; so that the total of 100,000,000 would disap- 
pear, not in eight, but in a little less than six million 
years, 

" This figure must be still further modified. For we 
must not forget that the sediment thus brought to the sea 
and displacing a certain amount of water, will cause a rise 
of the sea-level, accelerating by just so much the levelling 
process due to the wearing away of the continents. 

" It is easy to estimate the effect of this new factor. 
Indeed, for a given thickness lost by the plateau heretofore 
assumea, the sea-level must rise by an amount correspond- 
ing to the volume of the submarine deposit, which must 
exactly equal that of the sediment brought down. Calcu- 
lation shows that, in round numbers, the loss in volume 
will be twenty-four cubic kilometers. 

" Having accounted for an annual loss of twenty-four 
cubic kilometers, are we now in a position to conclude 
what time will be necessary for the complete disappear- 
ance of the dry land, always supposing the indefinite 
continuance of present conditions ? 



OMEGA. 8ç 

" Certainly, gentlemen ; for, after examining the objec- 
tion which might be made apropos of volcanic eruptions, 
we find that the latter aid rather than retard the disinte- 
grating process. 

"We believe, therefore, that we may fearlessly accept 
the above estimate of twenty-four cubic kilometers, as a 
basis of calculation ; and as this figure is contained 
4,166,666 times in 100,000,000, which represents the 
volume of the continents, we are authorized to infer that 
under the sole action of forces now in operation^ provided 
no other movements of the soil occur, the dry land will 
totally disappear within a period of about 4^000^000 years, 

" But this disappearance, while interesting to a geologist 
or a thinker, is not an event which need cause the present 
generation any anxiety. Neither our children nor our 
grandchildren will be in a position to detect in any sensi- 
ble degree its progress. 

" If I may be permitted, therefore, to close these 
remarks with a somewhat fanciful suggestion, I will add 
that it would be assuredly the acme of foresight to build 
today a new ark, in which to escape the consequences of 
this coming universal deluge.*' 

Such was the learnedly developed thesis of the president 
of the geological society of France. His calm and 
moderate statement of the secular action of natural forces, 
opening up a future of 4,000,000 years of life, had allayed 
the apprehension excited by the comet. The audience 



CO 



OMEGA 




OMEGA, çi 

had become wonderfully tranquillized. No sooner had the 
orator left the platform and received the congratulations 
of his colleagues than an animated conversation began on 
every side. A sort of peace took possession of every 
mind. People talked of the end of the world as they 
would of the fall of a ministry, or the coming of the 
swallows — dispassionately and disinterestedly. A fatality 
put off 40,000 centuries does not really affect us at all. 

But the permanent secretary of the academy of meteo- 
rology had just ascended the tribune, and every one gave 
him at once the strictest attention : 

'^ Ladies and gentlemen : I am about to lay before you 
a theory diametrically opposed to that of my eminent 
colleague of the Institute, yet based upon facts no less 
definite and a process of reasoning no less rigorous. 

" Yes, gentlemen, diametrically opposed " — 

The orator, gifted with an excellent voice, had perceived 
the disappointment settling upon every face. 

" Oh," he said, " opposed, not as regards the time which 
nature allots to the existence of humanity, but as to the 
manner in which the world will come to an end ; for I 
also believe in a future of several million years. 

" Only, instead of seeing the subsidence and complete 
submergence of the land beneath the invading waters, I 
foresee, on the contrary, death by drouth, and the gradual 
diminution of the present water supply of the earth. 
Some day there will be no more ocean, no more clouds, no 



Ç2 OMEGA, 

more raîn, no more springs, no more moisture, and vegeta- 
ble as well as animal life will perish, not by drowning, but 
through lack of water, 

" On the earth's surface, indeed, the water of the sea, of 
the rivers, of the clouds, and of the springs, is decreasing. 
Without going far in search of examples, I would remind 
you, gentlemen, that in former times, at the beginning of 
the quaternary period, the site now occupied by Paris, with 
its 9,000,000 of inhabitants, from Mount. Saint-Germain to 
Villeneuve-Saint-Georges, was almost entirely occupied by 
water; only the hill of Passy at Montmartre and Pere- 
Lachaise, and the plateau of Montrouge at the Panthéon 
and Villejuif emerged above this immense liquid sheet. 
The altitudes of these plateaus have not increased, there 
have been no upheavals ; it is the water which has 
diminished in volume. 

" It is so in every country of the world, and the cause is 
easy to assign. A certain quantity of water, very small, it 
is true, in proportion to the whole, but not negligable, per- 
colates through the soil, either below the sea bottoms by 
crevices, fissures and openings due to submarine eruptions, 
or on the dry land ; for not all the rain water falls upon 
impermeable soil. In general, that which is not evapo- 
rated, returns to the sea by springs, rivulets, streams and 
rivers; but for this there must be a bed of clay, over 
which it may follow the slopes. Wherever this imper- 
meable soil is lacking, it continues its descent by infiltra- 



OMEGA. çs 

tion and saturates the rocks below. This is the water 
encountered in quarries. 

"This water is lost to general circulation. It enters 
into chemical combination and constitutes the hydrates. 
If it penetrates far enough, it attains a temperature suffi- 
cient for its transformation into steam, and such is gener- 
ally the origin of volcanoes and earthquakes. But, within 
the soil, as in the open air, a sensible proportion of the 
water in circulation becomes changed into hydrates, and 
even into oxides ; there is nothing like humidity for the 
rapid formation of rust. Thus recombined, the elements 
of water, hydrogen and oxygen, disappear as water. Ther- 
mal waters also constitute another interior system of circu- 
lation ; they are derived from the surface, but they do not 
return there, nor to the sea. The surface water of the 
earth, either by entering into new combinations, or by 
penetrating the lower rock-strata, is diminishing, and it 
will diminish more and more as the earth's heat is dissi- 
pated. The heat-wells which have been dug within a 
hundred years, in the neighborhood of the principal cities 
of the world, and which afford the heat necessary for 
domestic purposes, will become exhausted as the internal 
temperature diminishes. The day will come when the 
earth will be cold to its center, and that day will be coinci- 
dent with an almost total disappearance of water. 

" For that matter, gentlemen, this is likely to be the fate 
of several bodies in our solar system. Our neighbor the 



94 



OMEGA 




NO MORE WATER. 



moon, whose volume and mass are far inferior to those of 
the earth, has grown cold more rapidly, and has traversed 
more quickly the phases of its astral life ; its ancient 
ocean-beds, on which we, today, recognize the indubitable 
traces of water action, are entirely dry ; there is no evi- 
dence of any kind of evaporation ; no cloud has been dis- 
covered, and the spectroscope reveals no indication of the 
presence of the vapor of water. On the other hand, the 
planet Mars, also smaller than the earth, has beyond a 
doubt reached a more advanced phase of development, and 
is known not to possess a single body of water worthy 
of the name of ocean, but only inland seas of medium 
extent and slight depth, united with each other by canals. 
That there is less water on Mars than on the earth is a fact 
proved by observation ; clouds are far less numerous, the 
atmosphere is much dryer, evaporation and condensation 



OMEGA, çs 

take place with greater rapidity, and the polar snows 
show variations, depending upon the season, much more ex- 
tensive than those which take place upon the earth. Again, 
the planet Venus, younger than the earth, is surrounded 
by an immense atmosphere, constantly filled with clouds. 
As for the large planet Jupiter, we can only make out, as 
it were, an immense accumulation of vapors. Thus, the 
four worlds of which we know the most, confirm, each in 
its own way, the theory of a secular decrease in the 
amount of the earth's water. 

" I am very happy to say in this connection that the 
theory of a general levelling process, maintained by my 
learned colleague, is confirmed by the present condition of 
the planet Mars. That eminent geologist told us a few 
moments ago, that, owing to the continuous action of riv- 
ers, plains almost horizontal would constitute the final 
form of the earth's surface. That is what has already 
happened in the case of Mars. The beaches near the sea 
are so flat that they are easily and frequently inundated, as 
every one knows. From season to season hundreds of 
thousands of square kilometers are alternately exposed or 
covered by a thin layer of water. This is notably the case 
on the western shores of the Kaiser sea. On the moon this 
levelling process has not taken place. There was not time 
enough for it ; before its consummation, the air, the wind 
and the water had vanished. 

" It is then certain that, while the earth is destined to 



96 OMEGA, 

undergo a process of levelling, as my eminent colleague 
has so clearly explained, it will at the same time gradually 
lose the water which it now possesses. To all appearances, 
the latter process is now going on more rapidly than the 
former. As the earth loses its internal heat and becomes 
cold, crevasses will undoubtedly form, as in the case of 
the moon. The complete extinction of terrestrial heat will 
result in contractions, in the formation of hollow spaces be- 
low the surface, and the contents of the ocean will flow 
into these hollows, without being changed into vapor, 
and will be either absorbed or combined with the metal- 
lic rocks, in the form of ferric hydrates. The amount of 
water will thus go on diminishing indefinitely, and finally 
totally disappear. Plants, deprived of their essential 
constituent, will become transformed, but must at last 
perish. 

" The animal species will also become modified, but 
there will always be herbivora and carnivora, and the 
extinction of the former will involve, inevitably, that of 
the latter ; and at last, the human race itself, notwithstand- 
ing its power of adaption, will die of hunger and of thirst, 
on the bosom of a dried-up world. 

" I conclude, therefore, gentlemen, that the end of the 
world will not be brought about by a new deluge, but by 
the loss of its water. Without water terrestrial life is 
impossible ; water constitutes the chief constituent of 
every living thing. It is present in the human body in 



OMEGA. çy 

the enormous proportion of seventy per cent. Without 
it, neither plants nor animals can exist. Either as a 
liquid, or in a state of vapor, it is the condition of life. 
Its suppression would be the death-warrant of human- 
ity, and this death-warrant nature will serve upon us a 
dozen million years hence. I will add that this will 
take place before the completion of the erosion explained 
by the president of the geological society of France ; 
for he, himself, was careful to note that the period of 
4,000,000 years was dependent upon the hypothesis that 
the causes now in operation continued to act as they do 
today ; and, furthermore, he, himself, admits that the man- 
ifestations of internal energy cannot immediately cease. 
Upheavals, at various points, will occur for a long period, 
and the growth of the land area from such causes as the 
formation of deltas, and volcanic and coral islands, will 
still go on for some time. The period which he indicated, 
therefore, represents only the minimum.'' 

Such was the address of the permanent secretary of the 
academy of meteorology. The audience had listened with 
the deepest attention to both speakers, and it was evident, 
from its bearing, that it was fully reassured concerning 
the fate of the world ; it seemed even to have altogether 
forgotten the existence of the comet. 

" The president of the physical society of France has 
the floor.'' 

At this invitation, a young woman, elegantly dressed 

7 



9» 



OMEGA. 




OMEGA, çç 

in the most perfect taste, ascended the tribune. 
• " My two learned colleagues," she began, without fur- 
ther preamble, " are both right ; for, on the one hand, it is 
impossible to deny that meteorological agents, with the 
assistance of gravity, are working insensibly to level the 
world, whose crust is ever thickening and solidifying ; and, 
on the other hand, the amount of water on the surface of 
our planet is decreasing from century to century. These 
two facts may be considered as scientifically established. 
But, gentlemen, it does not seem to me that the end of the 
world will be due to either the submergence of the conti- 
nents, or to an insufficient supply of water for plant and 
animal life." 

This new declaration, this announcement of a third 
hypothesis, produced in the audience an astonishment bor- 
dering upon stupor. 

" Nor do I believe," the graceful orator hastened to add, 
" that the final catastrophe can be set down to the comet, 
for I agree with my two eminent predecessors, that worlds 
do not die by accident, but of old age. 

^* Yes, doubtless, gentlemen," she continued, " the water 
will grow less, and, perhaps, in the end totally disappear ; 
yet, it is not this lack of water which in itself will bring 
about the end of things, but its climatic consequences. 
The decrease in the amount of aqueous vapor in the 
atmosphere will lead to a general lowering of the tem- 
perature, and humanity will perish wtih cold. 



^S33SB 



loo OMEGA, 

"I need inform no one here that the atmosphere we 
breathe is composed of seventy-nine per cent, of nitro- 
gen and twenty per cent, of oxygen, and that of the re- 
maining one per cent, about one-half is aqueous vapor 
and three ten-thousandths is carbonic acid, the remain- 
der being ozone, or electrified oxygen, ammonia, hydro- 
gen and a few other gases, in exceedingly small quanti- 
ties. Nitrogen and oxygen, then, form ninety-nine per 
cent, of the atmosphere, and the vapor of water one-half 
the remainder. 

" But, gentlemen, from the point of view of vege- 
table and animal life, this half of one per cent, of 
aqueous vapor is of supreme importance, and so far as 
temperature and climate are concerned, I do not hesitate 
to assert that it is more essential than all the rest of the 
atmosphere. 

"The heat waves, coming from the sun to the earth, 
which warm the soil and are thence returned and scattered 
through the atmosphere into space, in their passage 
through the air meet with the oxygen and nitrogen atoms 
and with the molecules of aqueous vapor. These mole- 
cules are so thinly scattered (for they occupy but the 
hundredth part of the space occupied by the others), that 
one might infer that the retention of any heat whatever is 
due rather to the nitrogen and oxygen than to the 
aqueous vapor. Indeed, if we consider the atoms alone, 
we find two hundred oxygen and nitrogen atoms for 



OMEGA. loi 

one of aqueous vapor. Well, this one atom has eigh- 
ty times more energy, more effective power to retain 
radiant heat, than the two hundred others ; consequently, 
a molecule of the vapor of water is 16,000 times more 
effective than a molecule of dry air, in absorbing and in 
radiating heat — for these two properties are reciprocally 
proportional. 

" To diminish by any great amount the number of these 
invisible molecules of the vapor of water, is to immedi- 
ately render the earth uninhabitable, notwithstanding its 
oxygen ; even the equatorial and tropical regions will sud- 
denly lose their heat and will be condemned to the cold of 
mountain summits covered with perpetual snow and frost : 
in place of luxurious plants, of flowers and fruits, of birds 
and nests, of the life which swarms in the sea and upon 
the land ; instead of murmuring brooks and limpid rivers, 
of lakes and seas, we shall be surrounded only by ice in 
the midst of a vast desert — and when I say we^ gentlemen, 
you understand we shall not linger long as witnesses, for 
the very blood would freeze in our veins and arteries, and 
every human heart would soon cease to beat. Such would 
be the consequences of the suppression of this half hun- 
dredth part of aqueous vapor which, disseminated through 
the atmosphere, beneficently protects and preserves all 
terrestrial life as in a hot-house. 

" The principles of thermodynamics prove that the 
temperature of space is 273° below zero. And this, gentle- 



Î02 



OMÉGA , 




PRIMARY VEGETATION AT THE NORTH POLE. 



men, is the more than glacial cold in which our planet 
will sleep when it shall have lost this airy garment in 
whose sheltering warmth it is today enwrapped. Such is 
the fate with which the gradual loss of the earth's water 
threatens the world, and this death by cold will be 



OMÉGA. 103 

inevitably ours, îf our earthly sojourn is long enough. 
" This end is all the more certain, because not only the 
aqueous vapor is diminishing, but also the oxygen and 
nitrogen, in brief, the entire atmosphere. Little by little 
the oxygen becomes fixed in the various oxides which are 
constantly forming on the earth's surface ; this is the case 
also with the nitrogen, which disappears in the soil and 
vegetation, never wholly regaining a gaseous state; and 
the atmosphere penetrates by its weight into the land and 
sea, descending into subterranean depths. Little by little, 
from century to century, it grows less. Once, as for 
example in the early primary period, it was of vast extent; 
the earth was almost wholly covered by water, only the 
first granite upheavel broke the surface of the universal 
ocean, and the atmosphere was saturated with a quantity of 
aqueous vapor immeasurably greater than that it now holds. 
This is the explanation of the high temperature of those 
bygone days, when the tropical plants of our time, the 
tree ferns, such as the calamités, the equisetaceœ, the 
sigillaria and the lepidodendrons flourished as luxuriously 
at the poles as at the equator. Today, both the atmos- 
phere and aqueous vapor have considerably diminished in 
amount. In the future they are destined to disappear. 
Jupiter, which is still in its primary period, possesses an 
immense atmosphere full of vapors. The moon does not 
appear to have any at all, so that the temperature is al- 
ways below the freezing point, even in the sunlight. 



I04 OMEGA, 

and the atmosphere of Mars is sensibly rarer than ours. 

" As to the time which must elapse before this reign of 
cold caused by the diminution of the aqueous atmosphere 
which surrounds the globe, I also would adopt the period 
of iD,ooo,ooo years, as estimated by the speaker who pre- 
ceded me. Such, ladies, are the stages of world-life which 
nature seems to have marked out, at least for the planetary 
system to which we belong. I conclude, therefore, that 
the fate of the earth will be the same as that of the moon, 
and that when it loses the airy garment which now guar- 
antees it against the loss of the heat received from the sun, 
it will perish with cold." 

At this point the chancellor of the Columbian academy, 
who had come that very day from Bogota by an elcetric 
air-ship to participate in the discussion, requested permis- 
sion to speak. It was known that he had founded on the 
very equator itself, at an enormous altitude, an observatory 
overlooking the entire planet, from which one might see 
both the celestial poles at the same time, and which he 
had named in honor of a French astronomer who had 
devoted his whole life to making known his favorite 
science and to establishing its great philosophical import- 
ance. He was received with marked sympathy and 
attention. 

" Gentlemen,'' he said, on reaching the desk, " in these 
two sessions we have had an admirable resume of the curi- 
ous theories which modern science is in a position to offer us, 



OMEGA . 



ros 



Upon the various ways in which our world may come to an 
end. The burning of the atmosphere, or suffocation caused 
by the shock of the rapidly approaching comet ; the 
submergence of the continents in the far future beneath 
the sea ; the drying up of the earth as a result of the 
gradual loss of its water ; and finally, the freezing of our 
unhappy planet, grown old as the decaying and frozen 
moon. Here, if I mistake not, are five distinct possible 
ends. 




PERISHING FROM COLD. 



io8 OMEGA, 

You know gentlemen, that a kilogram of coal, falling from à 
an infinite distance to the sun, would produce, by its 
impact, six thousand times more heat than by its combus- ' 
tion. At the present rate of radiation, this supply of heat ^ 
accounts for the emission of thermal energy for a period 
of 22,000,000 years, and it is probable that the sun has ' 
been burning far longer, for there is nothing to prove y 
that the elements of the nebula were absolutely cold ; on 
the contrary they themselves were originally a source of 
heat. The temperature of this great day-star does not seem 
to have fallen any ; for its condensation is still going on, ' 
and it may make good the loss by radiation. Nevertheless, 
everything has an end. If at some future stage of con- 
densation the sun's density should equal that of the earth, 
this condensation would yield a fresh amount of heat suf- 
ficient to maintain for 1 7,000,000 years the same temperature 
which now sustains terrestrial life, and this period may be 
prolonged if we admit a diminution in the rate of radiation, 
a fall of meteorites, or a further condensation resulting in 
a density greater than that of the earth. But, however 
far we put off the end, it must come at last. The suns 
which are extinguished in the heavens, offer so many 
examples of the fate reserved for our own luminary ; and 
in certain years such tokens of death are numerous. 

** But in that long period of seventeen or twenty million 
years, or more, who can say what the marvellous power of 
adaptation, which physiology and paleontology have re- 



OMEGA, loç 

vealed in every variety of animal and vegetable life, may 
not do for humanity, leading it, step by step, to a state of 
physical and. intellectual perfection as far above ours, as 
ours is above that of the ignuanodon, the stegosaurus and 
the compsognathus ? Who can say that our fossil remains 
will not appear to our successors as monstrous as those of 
the dinosaurus ? Perhaps the stability of temperature of 
that future time may make it seem doubtful whether any 
really intelligent race could have existed in an epoch sub- 
jected, as ours is, to such erratic variations of temperature, 
to the capricious changes of weather which characterize 
our seasons. And, who knows if before that time some 
immense cataclysm, some general change may not bury 
the past in new geological strata and inaugurate new per- 
iods, quinquennial, sexsennial, differing totally from the 
preceding ones ? 

" One thing is certain, that the sun will finally lose its 
heat ; it is condensing and contracting, and its fluidity is 
decreasing. The time will come when the circulation, 
which now supplies the photosphere, and makes the cen- 
tral mass a reservoir of radiant energy, will be obstructed 
and will slacken. The radiation of heat and light will 
then diminish, and vegetable and animal life will be more 
and more restricted to the earth's equatorial regions. 
When this circulation shall have ceased, the brilliant pho- 
tosphere will be replaced by a dark opaque crust which 
will prevent all luminous radiation. The sun will become 



no OMEGA, 

a dark red ball, then a black one, and night will be 
perpetual. The moon, which shines only by reflection, 
will no longer illumine the lonely nights. Our planet 
will receive no light but that of the stars. The solar 
heat having vanished, the atmosphere will remain un- 
disturbed, and an absolute calm, unbroken by any breath 
of air, will reign. 

" If the oceans still exist they will be froze;i. ones, no 
evaporation will form clouds, no rain will fall, no stream 
will flow. Perhaps, as has been observed in the case of 
stars on the eve of extinction, some last flare of the expir- 
ing torch, some accidental development of heat, due to the 
falling in of the sun's crust, will give us back for a while 
the old-time sun, but this will only be the precursor of the 
end ; and the earth, a dark ball, a frozen tomb, will con- 
tinue to revolve about the black sun, travelling through 
an endless night and hurrying away with all the solar sys- 
tem into the abyss of space. // is to the extinction of the 
sun that the earth will owe its death^ twenty^ perhaps forty 
million years hence ^ 

The speaker ceased, and was about to leave the platform, 
when the director of the academy of fine arts begged to 
be heard : 

" Gentlemen," he said, from his chair, " if I have under- 
stood rightly, the end of the world will in any case result 
from cold, and only several million years hence. If, then, 
a painter should endeavor to represent the last day, he 



OMEGA 



III 




A WORLD OP ICE. 



ought to shroud the earth in ice, and cover it with 
skeletons." 

" Not exactly," replied the Columbian chancellor. ^* It 
is not cold which produces glaciers, — it is heat. 

" If the sun did not evaporate the sea water there would 
be no clouds, and but for the sun there would be no wind. 
For the formation of glaciers a sun is necessary, to vapor- 
ize the water and to transport it in clouds and then to 
condense it. Every kilogram of vapor formed represents 
a quantity of solar heat sufficient to raise five kilograms 
of cast-iron to its fusing point (iio°). By lessening the 
intensity of the sun's action we exhaust the glacier 
supply. 

" So that it is not the snow, nor the glaciers which will 
cover the earth, but the frozen remnant of the sea. For a 
long time previously streams and rivers will have ceased 
to exist and every atmospheric current will have disap- 



112 OMEGA, 

peared, unless indeed, before giving up the ghost, the sun 
shall have passed through one of those spasms to which 
we referred a moment ago, shall have released the ice from 
sleep and have produced new clouds and aerial currents, 
re-awakened the springs, the brooks and the rivers, and 
after this momentary but deceitful awakening, shall have 
fallen back again into lethargy. That day will have no 
morrow." 

Another voice, that of a celebrated electrician, was heard 
from the center of the hémicycle. 

** All these theories of death by cold,'' he observed, *' are 
plausible. But the end of the world by fire ? This has 
been referred to only in connection with the comet. It 
may happen otherwise. 

** Setting aside a possible sinking of the continents into 
the central fire, brought about by an earthquake on a large 
scale, or some widespread dislocation of the earth's crust, 
it seems to me that, without any collision, a superior will 
might arrest our planet midway in its course and transform 
its motion into heat." 

"A will?" interrupted another voice. "But positive 
science does not admit the possibility of miracles in 
nature." 

"Nor I, either," replied the electrician. "When I say 
*will,' I mean an ideal, invisible force. Let me explain. 

" The earth is flying through space with a velocity of 
106,000 kilometers per hour, or 29,460 meters per second. 



OMEGA. 113 

If some star, active or extinct, should emerge from space, 
so as to form with the sun a sort of electro-dynamic couple 
with our planet on its axis, acting upon it like a brake — 
if, in a word, for any reason, the earth should be suddenly 
arrested in its orbit, its mechanical energy would be 
changed into molecular motion, and its temperature would 
be suddenly raised to such a degree as to reduce it entirely 
to a gaseous state." 

" Gentlemen," said the director of the Mont Blanc obser- 
vatory, from his chair, " the earth might perish by fire in 
still another manner. We have lately seen in the sky a 
temporary star which, in a few weeks, passed from the six- 
teenth to the fourth magnitude. This distant sun had 
suddenly become 50,000 times hotter and more luminous. 
If such a fate should overtake our sun, nothing living 
would be left upon our planet. It is probable, from the 
study of the spectrum of the light emitted by this burn- 
ing star, that the cause of this sudden conflagration was 
the entrance of this sun and its system into some kind of 
nebula. Our own sun is travelling with a frightful veloc- 
ity in the direction of the constellation of Hercules, and 
may very well some day encounter an obstacle of this 
nature." 

" To resume," continued the director of the Paris obser- 
vatory, ** after all we have just now heard, we see that our 
planet will be at a loss to choose among so many modes 
of death. I have as little fear now as before of any danger 

8 



114 OMEGA, 

from the present comet. But it must be confessed that, 
solely from the point of view of the astronomer, this poor, 
wandering earth is exposed to more than one peril. The 
child bom into this world, and destined to reach the age 
of maturity, may be compared to a person stationed at the 
entrance to a narrow street, one of those picturesque 
streets of the sixteenth century, lined with houses at whose 
every window is a marksman armed with a good weapon 
of the latest model. This person must traverse the entire 
length of the street, without being stricken down by the 
weapons levelled upon him at close range. Every disease 
which lies in wait and threatens us, is on hand : dentition, 
convulsion, croup, meningitis, measles, smallpox, typhoid 
fever, pneumonia, enteritis, brain fever, heart disease, con- 
sumption, diabetes, apoplexy, cholera, influenza, etc., etc., 
for we omit many, and our hearers will have no difiiculty 
in supplementing this ofihand enumeration. Will our 
unhappy traveller reach the end of the street safe and 
sound ? If he does, it will only be to die, just the same. 

"Thus our planet pursues its way along its heavenly 
path, with a speed of more than 100,000 kilometers per 
hour, and, at the same time, the sun hurries it on, with all 
the planets, toward the constellation of Hercules. Reca- 
pitulating what has just been said, and allowing for what 
may have been omitted : it may meet a comet ten or 
twenty times larger than itself, composed of deleterious 
gases which would render the atmosphere irrespirable ; it 



OMEGA. 



115 



may encounter a swarm of uranolites, which would have 
upon it the effect of a charge of shot upon a meadow lark; 
it may meet in its path an invisible sun, much larger than 
itself, whose shock would reduce it to vapor ; it may 
encounter a sun which would consume it in the tw^inkling 
of an eye, as a furnace would consume an apple thrown 
into it ; it may be caught in a system of electric forces, 
which would act like a brake upon its eleven motions, and 
which would either melt it, or set it afire, like a platinum 
wire in a strong current ; it may lose the oxygen which 
supports life ; it may be blown up like the crust over a 
crater ; it may collapse in some great earthquake ; its dry 




LIKE A CHARGE OF SHOT UPON A MEADOW LARK. * 



ii6 OMEGA. 

land may disappear, in a second deluge, more universal 
than the first ; it may, on the contrar>% lose all its water, 
an element essential to its organic life ; under the attrac- 
tion of some passing body, it may be detached from the 
sun and carried away into the cold of stellar space ; it may 
part, not only with the last vestige of its internal heat, 
which long since has ceased to have any influence upon its 
surface, but also with the protecting envelope which main- 
tains the temperature necessary to life ; one of these days, 
when the sun has grown dark and cold, it may be neither 
lighted, nor warmed, nor fertilized ; on the other hand, it 
may be suddenly scorched by an outburst of heat, analo- 
gous to what has been observed in temporary stars ; not to 
speak of many other sources of accidents and mortal peril, 
whose easy enumeration we leave to the geologists paleon- 
tologists, meteorologists, physicists, chemists, biologists, 
physicians, botanists, and even to the veterinary surgeons, 
inasmuch as the arrival of an army of invisible microbes, 
if they be but deadly enough, or a well-established epi- 
demic, would suffice to destroy the human race and the 
principal animal and vegetable species, without working 
the least harm to the planet itself, from a strictly astronom- 
ical point of view/' 

Just as the speaker was uttering these last words, a voice, 
which seemed to come from a distance, fell, as it were, 
from the ceiling overhead. But a few words of explana- 
tion may here perhaps be desirable. 



OMEGA, Î17 

As we have said, the observatories established on the 
higher mountains of the globe were connected by tele- 
phone, with the observatory of Paris, and the sender of the 
message could be heard at a distance from the receiver, 
without being obliged to apply any apparatus directly to 
the ear. The reader doubtless recollects that, at the close 
of the preceding session, a phonogram from Mt Gaurisan- 
kar stated that a photophonic message, which would be at 
once deciphered, had been received from the inhabitants 
of Mars. As the translation of this cipher had not arrived 
at the opening of the evening session, the bureau of com- 
munications had connected the Institute with the observa- 
tory by suspending a telephonoscope from the dome of the 
amphitheater. 

Thé voice from above said : 

" The astronomers of the equatorial city of Mars warn 
the inhabitants of the earth that the comet is moving 
directly toward the earth with a velocity nearly double 
that of the orbital velocity of Mars. Mechanical motion 
to be transformed into heat, and heat into electrical energy. 
Terrible magnetic storms. Move away from Italy." 

The voice ceased amid general silence and consterna- 
tion. There were, however, a few sceptics left, one of 
whom, editor of La Libre Critique, raising his monocle to 
his right eye, had risen from the reporters desk and had 
exclaimed in a penetrating voice : 

" I am afraid that the venerable doctors of the Institute 



/IS 



OMÉGA. 



are the victims of a huge joke. No one can ever persuade 
me that the inhabitants of Mars — admitting that there are 
any and they have really sent us a warning — know Italy 
by name. I doubt very much if one of them ever heard 
of the Commentaries of Caesar or the History of the 
Popes, especially as " — 

The orator, who was launching into an interesting dith- 
yrambus, was at this point suddenly squelched by the 
turning off of the electric lights. With the exception of 
the illuminated square in the ceiling, the room was plunged 
in darkness and the voice added these six words : " This 
is the despatch from Mars ; " and thereupon the following 
symbols appeared on the plate of the telephonoscope : 




As this picture could only be seen by holding the head 
in a very fatiguing position, the president touched a bell 
and an assistant appeared, who by means of a projector and 



OMEGA. 119 

mirror transferred these hieroglyphics to a screen on the 
wall behind the desk, so that every one could readily see 
and analyze them at their leisure. Their interpretation 
was easy ; nothing indeed could be more simple. The 
figure representing the comet needed no explanation. The 
arrow indicates the motion of the comet towards a heav- 
enly body, which as seen from Mars presents phases, and 
sparkles like a star ; this means the earth, naturally so 
delineated by the Martians, for their eyes, developed in a 
medium less luminous than ours, are somewhat more sensi- 
tive and distinguish the phases of the Earth, and this the 
more readily because their atmosphere is rarer and more 
transparent. (For us the phases of Venus are just on the 
limit of visibility.) The double globe represents Mars 
looking at the Kaiser sea, the most characteristic feature 
of Martian geography, and indicates a velocity for the 
comet double the orbital velocity, or a little less, for the 
line does not quite reach the edge. The flames indicate 
the transformation of motion into heat ; the aurora boreal is 
and the lightning which follow, the transformation into 
electric and magnetic force. Finally, we recognize the 
boot of Italy, visible from Mars, and the black spot marks 
the locality threatened, according to their calculation, by 
one of the most dangerous fragments of the head of the 
comet; while the four arrows radiating in the direction of 
the four cardinal points of the compass seem to counsel 
removal from the point menaced. 



I20 OMEGA, 

The photophonic message from the Martians was 
much longer and far more complicated. The astronomers 
on Mt. Gaurisankar had previously received several such, 
and had discovered that they were sent from a very im- 
portant, intellectual and scientific center situated in the 
equatorial zone not far from Meridian bay. The last 
message, whose general meaning is given above, was the 
most important. The remainder of it had not been trans- 
mitted, as it was obscure and it was not certain that its 
exact meaning had been made out. 

The president rang his bell for order. He was about to 
sum up what had been said, before adjourning the meeting. 

** Gentlemen," he began, ** although it is after midnight, 
it will be of interest, before we separate, to summarize 
what has been told us in these two solemn sessions. 

" The last despatch from Gaurisankar may well impress 
you. It seems clear that the inhabitants of Mars are 
farther advanced in science than ourselves, and this is not 
surprising, for they are a far older race and have had 
centuries innumerable in which to achieve this progress. 
Moreover, they may be much more highly organized than 
we are, they may possess better eyes, instruments of 
greater perfection, and intellectual faculties of a higher 
order. We observe, too, that their calculations, while in 
accord with ours as to the collision, are more precise, for 
they designate the very point which is to receive the 
greatest shock. The advice to flee from Italy should 



OMEGA, 121 

therefore be followed, and I shall at once telephone the 
Pope, who at this very moment is assembling the prelates 
of entire Christendom. 

" So the comet will collide with the earth, and no one 
can yet foresee the consequences. But in all probability 
the disturbance will bq local and the world will not be 
destroyed. The carbonic-oxide is not likely to penetrate 
the respirable portions of the atmosphere, but there will be 
an enormous development of heat. 

" As to the veritable end of the world, of all the 
hypotheses which today permit us to forecast that event 
the most probable is the last — that explained to us by the 
learned chancellor of the Columbian academy : the life of 
the planet depends upon the sun ; so long as the sun 
shines humanity is safe, unless indeed the diminution of 
the atmosphere and aqueous vapor should usher in before 
that time the reign of cold. In the former case we have 
yet before us twenty million years of life ; in the latter 
only ten. 

" Let us then await the night of July 13-14 without 
despair. I advise those who can to pass these fête days in 
Chicago, or better still in San Francisco, Honolulu or 
Noumea. The trans-Atlantic electric air-ships are so 
numerous and well managed that millions of travellers 
may make the journey before Saturday night." 




THE LAST JUDGMENT. 

(From the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.) 



CHAPTER V. 



While the above scientific discussions were taking place 
at Paris, meetings of a similar character were being held 
at London, Chicago, St. Petersburg, Yokohama, Melbourne, 
New York, and in all the principal cities of the world, in 
which every effort was made to throw light upon the great 



OMEGA, lis 

problem which so universally preoccupied the attention of 
humanity. At Oxford a theological council of the Re- 
formed church was convened, in which religious traditions 
and interpretations were discussed at great length. To re- 
cite, or even to summarize here the proceedings of all 
these congresses would be an endless task, but we cannot 
omit reference to that of the Vatican as the most impor- 
tant from a religious point of view, just as that of the In- 
stitute of Paris was from a scientific one. 

The council had been divided into a certain number of 
sections or committees, and the then often discussed ques- 
tion of the end of the world had been referred to one 
of these committees. Our duty here is to reproduce as 
accurately as possible the physiognomy of the main 
session, devoted to the discussion of this problem. 

The patriarch of Jerusalem, a man of great piety and 
profound faith, was the first to speak in Latin. " Vener- 
able fathers,'^ he began, *^ I cannot do better than to open 
before you the Holy Gospel. Permit me to quote lit- 
erally." He then read the words of the evangelists* 
describing the last days of the earth, and went on : 

" These words are taken verbatim from the Gospels, and 
you know that on this point the evangelists are in perfect 
accord. 

" You also know, most reverend fathers, that the last 
great day is pictured in still more striking language in the 



*St. Matthew, xxiv. and xvi.; St. Mark, xiii.; St. I,uke, xvii. and xxi. 



124 



OMEGA. 




THE PATRIARCH OF JERUSALEM ADDRESSING THE COUNCIL. 



OMEGA, 125 

Apocalypse of St. John. But every word of the Scriptures 
is known to you, and, in the presence of so learned an 
audience, it seems to me superfluous, if not out of place, 
to make further citations from what is upon every lip." 

Such was the beginning of the address of the patriarch 
of Jerusalem. His remarks were divided under three 
heads : First, the teachings of Christ ; second, the tradi- 
tions of the Church ; third, the dogma of the resurrection 
of the body, and of the last judgment. Taking first the 
form of an historical statement, the address soon became a 
sort of sennon, of vast range ; and when the orator, pass- 
ing from St. Paul to Clement of Alexandria, Tertulian and 
Origen, reached the council of Nice and the dogma of 
universal resurrection, he was carried away by his subject 
in such a flight of eloquence as to move the heart of every 
prelate before him. Several, who had renounced the 
apostolic faith of the earlier centuries, felt themselves 
again under its spell. It must be said that the surround- 
ings lent themselves marvellously to the occasion. The 
assembly took place in the Sistine chapel. The immense 
and imposing painting of Michael Angelo, like a new 
apocalyptic heaven, was before every eye. The awful 
mingling of bodies, arms and legs, so forcibly and 
strangely foreshortened ; Christ, the judge of the world ; 
the damned borne struggling away by hideous devils ; the 
dead issuing from their tombs ; the skeletons returning to 
life and reclothing themselves with flesh ; the frightful 



120 



OMEGA . 



terror of humanity trembling in the presence of the wrath 
of God — all seemed to give a vividness, a reality, to the 
magnificent periods of the patriarch's oratory, and at times, 
in certain effects of light, one might almost hear the ad- 
vancing trumpet sounding from heaven the call of judg- 
ment, and see between earth and sky the moving hosts 
of the resurrection. 

Scarcely had the patriarch of Jerusalem finished his 
speech, when an independent bishop, one of the most 
ardent dissenters of the council, the learned Mayerstross, 

rushed to the tribune, and 
began to insist that noth- 
ing in the Gospel, or the 
traditions of the Church, 
should be taken literally. 
"The letter kills," he 
cried, " the spirit vivifies ! 
Everything is subject to the 
law of progress and change. 
The world moves. En- 
lightened Christians cannot 
any longer admit the resur- 
rection of the body. All 
these images," he added, 
" were good for the days of 
the catacombs. For a long 
time no one has believed in 




MAYERSTROSS. 



OMEGA. 127 

them. Such ideas are opposed to science, and, most rev- 
erend fathers you know, as well as I do, that we must be 
in accord with science, which has ceased to be, as in the 
time of Galileo, the humble servant of theology : theo- 
logiae humilis ancilla. 

" The body cannot be reconstituted, even by a miracle, so 
long as its molecules return to nature and are appropriated, 
successively, by so many beings — human, animal and 
vegetable. We are formed of the dust of the dead, and, 
in the future, the molecules of oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, 
carbon, phosphorus, sulphur, or iron, which make up our 
flesh and our bones, will be incorporated in other human 
organisms. This change is perpetual, even during life. 
One human being dies every second ; that is more than 
86,000 each day, more than 30,000,000 each year, more 
than three milliards each century. In a hundred centuries 
— not a long period in the history of a planet, the number 
of the resurrected would be three hundred milliards. If 
the human race lived but a 100,000 years — and no one 
here is ignorant of the fact that geological and astro- 
nomical periods are estimated by millions of years — there 
would be gathered before the judgment throne something 
like three thousand milliards of men, women and children. 
My estimate is a modest one, because I take no account of 
the secular increase in population. You may reply to me, 
that only the saved will rise ! What, then, will become 
of the others ? Two weights and two measures ! Death 



128 OMEGA, 

and life ! Night and day, good and evil ! Divine injus- 
tice and good-will, reigning together over creation ! But, 
no, you will not accept such a solution. The eternal law 
is the same for all. Well ! What will you do with these 
thousands of milliards ? Show me the valley of Jehosha- 
phat vast enough to contain them. Will you spread them 
over the surface of the globe^ do away with the oceans and 
the icefields of the poles, and cover the world with a forest 
of human bodies ? So be it ! And afterwards ? What 
will become of this immense host? No, most holy 
fathers, our beliefs must not, cannot, be taken literally. 
Would that there were here no theologians with closed 
eyes, that look only within, but astronomers with open 
eyes, that look without." 

These words had been uttered in the midst of an 
indescribable tumult ; several times they wished to silence 
the Croatian bishop, gesticulating violently and denounc- 
ing him as schismatic ; but the rules did not permit this, 
for the greatest liberty was allowed in the discussion. An 
Irish cardinal called down upon him the thunders of the 
Church, and spoke of excommunication and anathema; 
then, a distinguished prelate of the Gallican church, no less 
a person than the archbishop of Paris himself, ascended the 
rostrum and declared that the dogma of the resurrection 
of the dead might be discussed without incurring any 
canonical blame, and that it might be interpreted in entire 
harmony with reason and faith. According to him one 



OMEGA. I2Ç 

might admit the dogma, and at the same time recognize 
the rational impossibility of a resurrection of the body ! 

"The Doctor Angelicas," he said, speaking of St. 
Thomas, "maintained that the complete dissolution of 
every human body by fire would take place before the 
resurrection. (Summa theologica, III.) I readily concede 
with Calmet (on the resurrection of the dead) that to the 
omnipotence of the Creator it would not be impossible to 
reassemble the scattered molecules in such a way that the 
resurrected body should not contain a single one which 
did not belong to it at some time during its mortal life. 
But such a miracle is not necessary. St. Thomas has him- 
self shown (loco citato) that this complete material identity 
is by no means indispensable to establish the perfect 
identity of the resurrected body with the body destroyed 
by death. I also think, therefore, that the letter should 
give way to the spirit. 

" What is the principle of identity in a living body ? 
Assuredly it does not consist in the complete and per- 
sistent identity of its matter. For in this continual 
change and renewal, which is the very essence of physio- 
logical life, the elements, which have belonged successive- 
ly from infancy to old age to the same human being, would 
form a colossal body. In this torrent of life the elements 
pass and change ceaselessly ; but the organism remains the 
same, notwithstanding the modifications in its size, its form 
and its constitution. Does the growing stem of the oak, 

9 



ijo OMEGA. 

hidden between its two cotyledons, cease to be the same 
plant when it has become a mighty oak ? Is the embryo 
of the caterpillar, while yet in the egg, no longer the same 
insect when it becomes a caterpillar, and then a chrysalis, 
and then a butterfly ? Is individuality lost as the child 
passes through manhood to old age ? Assuredly not. But 
in the case of the oak, the butterfly, and the man, is there a 
single remaining molecule of those which constituted the 
growing stem of the oak, the ^gg of the caterpillar or the 
human embryo ? What then is the principle which persists 
through all these changes? This principle is a reality, 
not a fiction. It is not the soul, for the plants have life, 
and yet no souls, in the meaning of the word as we use it. 
Nevertheless, it must be an imponderable agent. Does it 
survive the body ? It is possible. St. Gregory of Nyssus 
believed so. If it remains united to the soul, it may be 
invoked to furnish it with a new body identical with that 
which death has destroyed, even though this body should 
not possess a single molecule which it possessed at any 
period of its terrestrial life, and this would be as truly our 
body as that which we had when five, fifteen, or thirty, 
or sixty years of age. 

" Such a conception agrees perfectly with the expressions 
of holy writ, according to which it is certain that after a 
period of separation the soul will again take on the body 
forever. 

" In addition to St. Gregory of Nyssus, permit me, most 



OMEGA. 131 

reverend fathers, to cite a philosopher I^eibnitz, who held 
the opinion that the physiological principle of life was im- 
ponderable but not incorporeal, and that the soul remains 
united to this principle, although separated from the pon- 
derable and visible body. I do not pretend to either ac- 
cept or reject this hypothesis. I only note that it may 
serve to explain the dogma of the resurrection, in which 
every Christian should firmly believe." 

" This effort to conciliate reason and faith," interrupted 
the Croatian bishop, " is worthy of praise, but it seems to 
me more ingenious than probable. Are these bodies, 
bodies like our own? If they are perfect, incorruptible, 
fitted to their new conditions, they must not possess any 
organ for which there is no use. Why a mouth, if they 
do not eat ? Why legs, if they do not walk ? Why arms, 
if they do not work? One of the fathers of the early 
church, Origen, whose personal sacrifice is not forgotten, 
thought these bodies must be perfect spheres. That would 
be logical but not very beautiful or interesting." 

" It is better to admit w^th St. Gregory of Nyssus and 
St. Augustin," replied the archbishop, ** that the resurrec- 
ted body will have the human form, a transparent veil of 
the beauty of the soul." 

Thus was the modern theory of the Church on the 
resurrection of the body summed up by the French cardinal. 
As to the objections on the score of the locality of the 
resurrection, the number of the resurrected, the insuffi- 



IJ2 OMEGA. 

ciency of surface on the globe, the final abode of the elect 
and the damned, it was impossible to come to any common 
understanding for the contradictions were irreconcilable. 
The resultant impression was, however, that these matters 
also should be understood figuratively, that neither the 
heaven or the hell of the theologian represented any definite 
place, but rather states of the soul, of happiness or of 
misery, and that life, whatever its form, would be perpetu- 
ated on the countless worlds which people infinite space. 
And so it appeared that Christian thought had gradually 
become transformed, among the enlightened, and followed 
the progress of astronomy and the other sciences. 

The council had been held on Tuesday evening, that is 
to say on the day following the two meetings of the Insti- 
tute, of which an account has been given above. The 
Pope had made public the advice of the president of the 
Institute to leave Italy on the fatal day, but no attention 
had been paid to it, partly because death is a deliverance 
for every believer, and partly because most theologians 
denied the existence even of inhabitants upon Mars. 




CHAPTER VI. 



It is now time to pause, amid the eventful scenes through 
which we are passing, in order to consider this new fear 
of the end of the world with others which have preceded 
it, and to pass rapidly in review the remarkable history of 
this idea, which has reappeared again and again in the 
past. At the time of which we are speaking, this subject 
was the sole theme of conversation in every land and in 
every tongue. 



133 



134 OMEGA, 

As to the dogma " Credo Resurrectionem Camis," the 
addresses of the fathers of the Church before the council 
assembled in the Sistine chapel at Rome, were, on the 
whole, in accord with the opinion expressed by the cardi- 
nal archbishop of Paris. The clause " et vitam setemam " 
was tacitly ignored, in view of the possible discoveries of 
astronomy and psychology. These addresses epitomized, 
as it were, the history of the doctrine of the end of the 
world as held by the Christian Church in all ages. 

This history is interesting, for it is also the history of 
the human mind face to face with its own destiny, and we 
believe it of sufficient importance to devote to it a separate 
chapter. For the time being, therefore, we abandon our 
role as the chronicler of the twenty-fourth century, and 
return to our own times, in order to consider this doctrine 
from an historical point of view. 

The existence of a profound and tenacious faith is as 
old as the centuries, and it is a notable fact that all relig- 
ions, irrespective of Christian dogma, have opened the 
same door from this mortal life upon the unknown which 
lies beyond, it is the door of the Divine Comedy of Dante, 
although the conceptions of paradise, hell and purgatory 
peculiar to the Christian Church, are not universal. 

Zoroaster and the Zend-Avesta taught that the world 
would perish by fire. The same idea is found in the Epis- 
tle of St. Peter. It seems that the traditions of Noah and 
of Deucalion, according to which the first great disaster to 



OMEGA. 135 

humanity came by flood, indicated that the second great 
disaster would be of an exactly opposite character. 

The apostles Peter and Paul died, probably, in the year 
64, during the horrible slaughter ordered by Nero after the 
burning of Rome, which had been fired at his command 
and whose destruction he attributed to the Christians in 
order that he might have a pretext for new persecutions. 
St. John wrote the Apocalypse in the year 69. The reign 
of Nero was a bloody one, and martyrdom seemed to be 
the natural consequence of a virtuous life. Prodigies 
appeared on every hand ; there were comets, falling stars, 
eclipses, showers of blood, monsters, earthquakes, famines, 
pestilences, and above all, there was the Jewish war and 
the destruction of Jerusalem. Never, perhaps, were so 
many horrors, so much cruelty and madness, so many catas- 
trophes, crowded into so short a period as in the years 
64-69 A.D. The little church of Christ was apparently 
dispersed. It was impossible to remain in Jerusalem. The 
horrors of the reign of terror of 1793, and of the Com- 
mune of 1 87 1, were as nothing in comparison with those 
of the Jewish civil war. The family of Jesus was obliged 
to leave the holy city and to seek safety in flight. False 
prophets appeared, thus verifying former prophecies. Ve- 
suvius was preparing the terrible eruption of the year 79, 
and already, in 63, Pompeii had been destroyed by an 
earthquake. 

There was every indication that the end of the world 



ijà OMEGA, 

was at hand. Nothing was wanting. The Apocalypse 
announced it. 

But a calm followed the storm. The terrible Jewish 
war came to an end ; Nero fell before Galba ; under Ves- 
pasian and Titus, peace (71) succeeded war, and — ^the end 
of the world was not yet. 

Once more it became necessary to interpret anew the 
words of the evangelists. The coming of Christ was put 
off until after the fall of the Roman empire, and thus con- 
siderable margin was given to the commentator. A firm 
belief in a final and even an imminent catastrophe per- 
sisted, but it was couched in vague terms, which robbed 
the spirit as well as the letter of the prophecy of all pre- 
cision. Still, the conviction remained. 

St. Augustine devotes the xxth book of the City of God 
(426) to the regeneration of the world, the resurrection, 
the last judgment, and the New Jerusalem ; in the xxist 
book he describes the everlasting torments of hell-fire. A 
witness to the fall of Rome and the empire, the bishop of 
Carthage believed these events to be the first act of the 
drama. But the reign of God was to continue a thousand 
years before the coming of Satan. 

St. Gregory, bishop of Tours (573), the first historian of 
the Franks, began his history as follows : " As I am about 
to relate the wars of the kings with hostile nations, I feel 
impelled to declare my belief The terror with which 
men await the end of the world decides me to chronicle 



OMEGA, ijy 

the years already passed, that thus one may know exactly 
how many have elapsed since the beginning of the world." 

This tradition was perpetuated from year to year and 
from century to century, notwithstanding that nature failed 
to confirm it. Every catastrophe, earthquake, epidemic, 
famine and flood, every phenomenon, eclipse, comet, storm, 
sudden darkness and tempest, was looked upon as the fore- 
runner and herald of the final cataclysm. Trembling like 
leaves in the blast, the faithful awaited the coming judg- 
ment ; and preachers successfully worked upon this dread 
apprehension, so deeply rooted in every heart. 

But, as generation after generation passed, it became 
necessary to define again the wide-spread tradition, and 
about this time the idea of a millennium took form in the 
minds of commentators. There were many sects which 
believed that Christ would reign with the saints a thousand 
years before the day of judgment. St. Irenus, St. Papias, 
and St. Sulpicius Severus shared this belief, which acquired 
an exaggerated and sensual form in the minds of many, 
who looked forward to a day of general rejoicing for the 
elect and a reign of pleasure. St. Jerome and St. Augus- 
tine did much to discredit these views, but did not attack 
the central doctrine of a resurrection. Commentators on 
the Apocalypse continued to flourish through the somber 
night of the middle ages, and in the tenth century espe- 
cially the belief gained ground that the year looo was to 
usher iii the great change. 



ij8 



OMEGA 



This conviction of an approaching end of the world, if 
not universal, was at least very general. Several charters 
of the period began with this sentence : Termino mundi 
appropinquante : " The end of the world drawing near." 
In spite of some exceptions, it seems difficult not to share 
the opinion of historians, notably of Michelet, Henry 
Martin, Guizot, and Duruy, regarding the prevalence of 
this belief throughout Christendom. Doubtless, neither 
the French monk Gerbert, at that time Pope Sylvester 
II., nor King Robert of France, regulated their lives by 
their superstition, but it had none the less penetrated 
the conscience of the faint-hearted, and many a sermon 
was preached from this text of the Apocalypse : 

"And when the 
thousand years are ex- 
pired, Satan shall be 
loosed out of his prison, 
and shall go out to de- 
ceive the nations which 
are in the four quarters 
of the earth . . . 
and another book was 
opened, which is the 
Book of Life . . . 
and the sea gave up 
the dead which were 
in it : and death and 




VICTIMS OF XHB PLAGUB. 



OMEGA, 139 

hell gave up the dead which were in them : and they were 
judged every man according to his works . . . and I 
saw a new heaven and a new earth." 

Bernard, a hermit of Thuringia, had taken these very 
words of Revelation as the text of his preaching, and in 
about the year 960 he publicly announced that the end 
of the world was at hand. He even fixed the fatal day 
itself, as that on which " The Annunciation " and Holy 
Friday should fall on the same day, a coincidence which 
really occurred in 992. 

Druthmar, a monk of Corbie, prophesied the end of the 
world for the 24th of March in the year 1000. In many 
cities popular terror was so great on that day that the 
people sought refuge in the churches, remaining until 
midnight, prostrate before the relics of the saints, in order 
to await there the last trump and to die at the foot of the 
cross. 

From this epoch date many gifts to the Church. Lands 
and goods were given to the monasteries. Indeed, an 
authentic and very curious document is preserved, written 
in the year 1000 by a certain monk, Raoul Glaber, on 
whose first pages we find : " Satan will soon be unloosed, 
as prophesied by St. John, the thousand years having been 
accomplished. It is of these years that we are to speak." 

The end of the tenth century and the beginning of the 
eleventh century was a truly strange and fearful period. 
From 980 to 1040 it seemed as if the angel of death had 



I40 OMEGA. 

spread his wings over the world. Famine and pestilence 
desolated the length and breadth of Europe. There was 
in the first place the " mal des ardents," the flesh of its 
victims decaying and falling from the bones, was consumed 
as by fire, and the members themselves were destroyed and 
fell away. Wretches thus afflicted thronged the roads 
leading to the shrines and besieged the churches, filling 
them with terrible odors, and dying before the relics of the 
saints. The fearful pest made more than forty thousand 
victims in Acquitania, and devastated the southern portions 
of France. 

Then came famine, ravaging a large part of Christen- 
dom. Of the seventy-three years between 987 and 1060, 
forty-eight were years of famine and pestilence. The 
invasion of the Huns, between 910 and 945, revived the 
horrors of Attila, and the soil was so laid waste by wars 
between domains and provinces that it ceased to be culti- 
vated. For three years rain fell continuously ; it was 
impossible either to sow or to reap. The earth became 
barren and was abandoned. " The price of a * muid ' of 
wheat," writes Raoul Glaber, ** rose to sixty gold sous ; the 
rich waxed thin and pale ; the poor gnawed the roots of 
trees, and many were in such extremity as to devour 
human flesh. The strong fell upon the weak in the public 
highways, tore them in pieces, and roasted them for food. 
Children were enticed by an ^%% or some fruit into by- 
ways, where they were devoured. This frenzy of hunger 



OMEGA . 



141 




THE HUT IN THE FOREST OF MÂCON. 



142 OMEGA. 

was such that the beast was safer than man. Famished 
children killed their parents, and mothers feasted upon 
their children. One person exposed human flesh for sale 
in the market place of Toumus, as if it were a staple arti- 
cle of food. He did not deny the fact and was burned at 
the stake. Another, stealing this flesh by night from the 
spot where it had been buried, was also burned alive." 

This testimony is that of one who lived at the time and 
in many cases was an eye witness to what he relates. On 
every side people were perishing of hunger, and did not 
scruple to eat reptiles, unclean animals, and even human 
flesh. In the depths of the forest of Macon, in the vicinity 
of a church dedicated to St. John, a wretch had built a hut 
in which he strangled pilgrims and wayfarers. One day a 
traveller entering the hut with his wife to seek rest, saw 
in a comer the heads of men, women and children. 
Attempting to fly, they were prevented by their host. 
They succeeded, however, in escaping, and on reaching 
Macon, related what they had seen. Soldiers were sent to 
the bloody spot, where they counted forty-eight human 
heads. The murderer was dragged to the town and burned 
alive. The hut and the ashes of the funeral pile were seen 
by Raoul Glaber. So numerous were the corpses that 
burial was impossible, and disease followed close upon 
famine. Hordes of wolves preyed upon the unburied. 
Never before had such misery been known. 

War and pillage were the universal rule, but these 



OMEGA 



^43 



scourges from heaven made men somewhat more reason- 
able. The bishops came together, and it was agreed to 
establish a truce for four days of each week, from Wednes- 
day night to Monday morning. This was known as the 
truce of God. 

It is not strange that the end of so miserable a world 
was both the hope and the terror of this mournful period. 

The year looo, however, passed like its predecessors, 
and the world continued to exist. Were the prophets 
wrong again, or did the thousand years of Christendom 
point to the year 1033? The world waited and hoped. 
In that very year occurred a total eclipse of the sun ; " The 




' BANDS OF WOLVES PREYED UPON THE UNBURIED. 



144 OMEGA. 

%XQsX source of light became saffron cdlored ; gazing into 
each others faces men saw that they were pale as death ; 
every object presented a livid appearance; stupor seized 
upon every heart and a general catastrophe was expected." 
But the end of the world was not yet 

It was to this critical period that we owe the construc- 
tion of the magnificent cathedrals which have survived 
the ravages of time and excited the wonder of centuries. 
Immense wealth had been lavished upon the clergy, and 
their riches increased by donations and inheritence. A 
new era seemed to be at hand. " After the year looo," con- 
tinues Raoul (xlaber, ** the holy basilicas throughout the 
world were entirely renovated, especially in Italy and Gaul, 
although for the most part they were in no need of repair. 
Christian nations vied with each other in the erection of 
magnificent churches. It seemed as if the entire world, 
animated by a common impulse, shook off the rags of the 
past to put on a new garment ; and the faithful were not 
content to rebuild nearly all the episcopal churches, but 
also embellished the monasteries dedicated to the various 
saints, and even the chapels in the smaller villages." 

The somber year looo had followed the vanished cen- 
turies into the past, but through what troubled times the 
Church had passed ! The popes were the puppets of the 
rival Saxon emperors and the princes of Latium. All 
Christendom was in anns. The crisis had passed, but 
the problem of the end of the world remained, and ere- 



OMEGA. 



^45 



dence in this dread 
certain and vague, 
that profound be- 
and in prodigies 
endure for centur- 
mind. The final 
judgment was 
the portals of ev- 
on entering the 
church one passed 




event, though un- 
was fostered by 
lief in the devil 
which was yet to 
ies in the popular 
scene of the last 
sculptured over 
- ery cathedral, and 
sanctuary of the 
under the balance 



of the archangel, on whose left writhed the bodies of the 
devils and the damned, delivered over to the eternal flames 
of hell. 

But the idea that the world was to end was not con- 
fined to the Church. In the twelfth century astrologers 
terrified Europe by the announcement of a conjunction of 
all the planets in the constellation of the scales. This 
conjunction indeed, occurred, for on September 15th all 
the planets were found between the i8oth and 190th de- 
grees of longitude. But the end of the world did not 
come. 

The celebrated alchemist, Arnauld de Villeneuve, fore- 
told it again for the year 1335. In 1406, under Charles 
VI., an eclipse of the sun, occurring on June i6th, produced 
a general panic, which is chronicled by Juvenal of the 
Ursuline Order : ^* It is a pitiable sight,'' he says, " to see 
people taking refuge in the churches as if the world were 



146 



OMEGA , 



atx>ut to perish." In 1491 St Vincent Ferrier wrote a 
treatise entitled, " De la Fin du Monde et de la Science 
Spirituelle." He allows Christendom as many years of life 
as there are verses in the psalter, namely, 2537. Then a 
German astrologer, one Stoffler, predicted that on Februar>' 
20, 1524, a general deluge would result from a conjunction 
of the planets. He was ver>' generally believed, and the 
panic was extreme. Property situated in valleys, along 
river banks, or near the sea, was sold to the less credulous 
for a mere nothing. A certain doctor, Auriol, of Toulouse, 
had an ark built for himself, his family and his friends, 
and Bodin asserts that he was not the only one who took 
this precaution. 

There were few sceptics. .The grand' chancellor of 
Charles v. sought the advice of Pierre Martyr, who 
told him that the event would not be as fatal as was 
feared, but that the conjunction of the planets would 
doubtless occasion grave disasters. The fatal day ar- 
rived . . . and never 
had the month of February 
been so dry! But this did 
not prevent new predic- 
tions for the year 1532, by 
the astrologer of the elec- 
tor of Brandenburg, Jean 
Carion ; and again for the 
year 1584, by the astrol- 




OMEGA 



147 



oger Cyprian Lëowitz. It was again a question of a 
deluge, due to planetary conjunctions. " The terror of the 
populace,'' writes a contemporary, Louis Guyon, "was 
extreme, and the churches could not hold the multitudes 
which fled to them for refuge ; many made their wills 
without stopping to think that this availed little if the 
world was really to perish ; others donated their goods to 
the clergy, in the hope that their prayers would put off 
the day of judgment." 

In 1588 there was another astrological prediction, 
couched in apocalyptic language, as follows : " The eighth 
year following the fifteen hundred and eightieth anni- 
versary of the birth of Christ will be a year of prodigies 
and terror. If in this terrible year the globe be not 
dissolved in dust, and the land and the sea be not destroyed, 
every kingdom will be overthrown and humanity will 
travail in pain." 

As might be expected, 
the celebrated soothsayer, 
Nostradamus, is found 
among these prophets of 
evil. In his book of 
rhymed prophecies, en- 
titled Centuries, we find 
the following quatrain, 
which excited much 
speculation : 




T4S OMEGA, 

Quand Georges Dieu crucifiera, 
Que Marc le ressuscitera, 
Et que St. Jean le portera, 
La fin du inonde arrivera. 

The meaning of which is, that when Easter falls on the 
twenty-fifth of April (St. Mark's day). Holy Friday will 
fall on the twenty-third (St. George's day), and Corpus 
Christi on the twenty-fourth of June (St. John's day), and 
the end of the world will come. This verse was not with- 
out malice, for at this time (Nostradamus died in 1556) the 
calendar had not been reformed ; this was not done until 
1582, and it was impossible for Easter to fall on the twenty- 
fifth of April. In the sixteenth century, the twenty-fifth 
of April corresponded to the fifteenth ; the day following 
November 4, 1582, was called the fifteenth. After the 
introduction of the Gregorian calendar, Easter might fall 
on the twenty-fifth of April, its latest possible date, and 
this was the case in 1666, 1734, 1886, as it will be again 
in 1942, 2038, 2190, etc., the end of the world, however, 
not being a necessary consequence of this coincidence. 

Planetary conjunctions, eclipses and comets were alike 
the basis for prophecies of evil. Among the comets re- 
corded in history we may mention, as the most remarkable 
from this point of view, that of William the Conqueror, 
which appeared in 1066, and which is pictured on the 
tapestry of Queen Matilda, at Bay eux ; that of 1264, which, 



OMEGA . 



^49 




it is said, disappeared the 
very day of the death of 
Pope Urban iv.; that of 
1327, one of the largest 
and most imposing ever 
seen, which " presaged " 
the death of Frederick, 
king of Sicily ; that of 
1399, which Juvenal, the 
Ursuline, described as 
"the harbinger of com- 
ing evil ; " that of 1402, to which was ascribed the death of 
Gian Galeazzo, Visconti, duke of Milan ; that of 1456, which 
filled all Christendom with terror, under Pope Calixtus 
III., during the war with the Turks, and which is associa- 
ted with the history of the Angelus ; and that of 1472, 
which preceded the death of the brother of Louis xi. 
There were others, also, associated like the preceding, with 
catastrophes and wars, and especially with the dreaded last 
hours of the race. That of 1527 is described by Ambroise 
Paré, and by Simon Goulart, as formed of severed heads, 
poignards and bloody clouds. The comet of 1531 was 
thought to herald the death of Louise of Savoy, mother of 
Francis i., and this princess shared the popular superstition 
in reference to evil stars : " Behold ! '' she exclaimed from 
her bed, on perceiving the comet through the window, 
" behold an omen which is not given to one of low degree. 



ISO OMEGA, 

God sends it as a warning to us. Let us prepare to meet 
death." Three days after, she died. But the famous 
comet of Charles v., appearing in 1556, was perhaps the 
most memorable of all. It had been identified as the 
comet of 1264, and its return was announced for 1848. 
But it did not reappear. 

The comets of 1577, 1607, 1652 and 1665 were the 
subjects of endless commentaries, forming a library by 
themselves. At the last of these Alphonso vi., king of 
Portugal, angrily discharged his pistol, with the most 
grotesque defiance. Pierre Petit, by order of Louis xiv., 
published a work designed to counteract the foolish, and 
political, apprehensions excited by comets. This illus- 
trious king desired to be without a rival, the only sun, 
" Nee pluribus impar ! " and would not admit the sup- 
position that the glory of France could be imperilled even 
by a celestial phenomenon. 

One of the greatest comets which ever struck the 
imagination of men was assuredly the famous comet of 
1680, to which Newton devoted so much attention. " It 
issued," said Lemonnier, *^ with a frightful velocity from 
the depths of space and seemed falling directly into the sun 
and was seen to vanish with an equal velocity. It was 
visible for four months. It approached quite near to the 
earth, and Whiston ascribed the deluge to its former ap- 
pearance." Bayle wrote a treatise to prove the absurdity 
of beliefs founded on these portents. Madame de Sévigné 



OMEGA, 151 

writing to her cousin, Count de Bussy-Rabutin, says : " We 
have a comet of enormous size ; its tail is the most beau- 
tiful object conceivable. Every person of note is alarmed 
and believes that heaven, interested in their fate, sends 
them a warning in this comet. They say that the courtiers 
of Cardinal Mazarin, who is despaired of by his physicians 
believe this prodigy is in honor of his passing away, and 
tell him of the terror with which it has inspired them. He 
had the sense to laugh at them, and to reply facetiously 
that the comet did him too much honor. In truth we 
ought all to agree with him, for human pride assumes too 
much when it believes that death is attended by such signs 
from heaven." 

We see that comets were gradually losing their prestige. 
Yet we read in a treatise of the astronomer Bemouilli this 
singular remark : " If the head of the comet be not a 
visible sign of the anger of God, the tail may well be^ 

Fear of the end of the world was reawakened by the 
appearance of comets in 1773 ; a great panic spread 
throughout Europe, and Paris itself was alarmed. Here is 
an extract from the memoirs of Bachaumont, accessible to 
every reader : 

"May 6th, 1773. In the last public meeting of the 
Academy of Sciences, M de Lalande was to read by far 
the most interesting paper of all ; this, however, he was 
not able to do, for lack of time. It concerned the comets 
which, by approaching the earth, may cause revolutions. 



152 O ME G A . 

and dealt especially with that one whose return is expected 
in eighteen years. But although he affirmed that it was 
not one of those which would harm the earth, and that, 
moreover, he had observed that one could not fix, with any 
exactness, the order of such occurrences, there exists, 
nevertheless, a very general anxiet}', 

" May 9th. The cabinet of M. de Lalande is filled with 
the curious who come to question him concerning the 
above memoir, and, in order to reassure those who have 
been alarmed by the exaggerated rumors circulated about 
it, he will doubtless be forced to make it public. The 
excitement has been so great that some ignorant fanatics 
have besought the archbishop to institute prayers for fort>' 
hours, in order to avert the deluge which menaces us; 
and this prelate would have authorized these prayers, had 
not the Academy shown him the ridicule which such a 
step would produce. 

"May 14th. The memoir of M. de Lalande has ap- 
peared. He says that it is his opinion that, of the sixty 
known comets, eight, by their near approach to the earth, 
might produce a pressure such that the sea would leave its 
bed and cover a part of the world." 

In time, the excitement died away. The fear of comets 
assumed a new form. They were no longer regarded as 
indications of the anger of God, but their collision with 
the earth was discussed from a scientific point of view, and 
these collisions were not considered free of danger. At the 



OMEGA, IS3 

close of the last century, Laplace stated his views on this 
question, in the forcible language which we have quoted 
in Chapter ii. 

in this century, predictions concerning the end of the 
world have several times been associated with the appear- 
ance of comets. It was announced that the comet of 
Biela, for example, would intersect the earth's orbit on 
October 29, 1832, which it did, as predicted. There 
was great excitement. Once more the end of things was 
declared at hand. Humanity was threatened. What was 
going to happen ? 

The orbit, that is to say the path, of the earth had been 
confounded with the earth itself. The latter was not to 
reach that point of its orbit traversed by the comet until 
November 30th, more than a month after the comet's 
passage, and the latter was at no time to be within 
20,000,000 leagues of us. Once more we got oflF with a 
fright. 

It was the same in 1857. Some prophet of ill omen 
had declared that the famous comet of Charles v., whose 
periodic time was thought to be three centuries, would 
return on the 13th of June of that year. More than one 
timid soul was rendered anxious, and the confessionals of 
Paris were more than usually crowded with penitents. 
Another prediction was made public in 1872, in the name 
of an astronomer, who, however, was not responsible for it 
— M. Plantamour, director of the Geneva observatory. 



154 OMEGA, 

As in the case of comets, so with other unusual phenom- 
ena, such as total solar eclipses, mysterious suns appearing 
suddenly in the skies, showers of shooting stars, great 
volcanic eruptions accompanied with the darkness of 
night and seeming to threaten the burial of the world in 
ashes, earthquakes overthrowing and engulfing houses and 
cities — all these grand and terrible events have been con- 
nected with the fear of an immediate and universal end of 
men and things. 

The history of eclipses alone would suffice to fill a vol- 
ume, no less interesting than the history of comets. Con- 
fining our attention to a modem example, one of the last 
total eclipses of the sun, visible in France, that oi August 
12, 1654, had been foretold by astronomers, and its an- 
nouncement had produced great alarm. For some it 
meant the overthrow of states and the fall of Rome ; for 
others it signified a new deluge; there were those who 
believed that nothing less than the destruction of the world 
by fire was inevitable ; while the more collected anticipated 
the poisoning of the atmosphere. Belief in these dreaded 
results were so widespread, that, in order to escape them, 
and by the express order of physicians, many terrified peo- 
ple shut themselves up in closed cellars, warmed and per- 
fumed. We refer the reader, especially, to the second 
evening of Les Mondes of Fontenelle. Another writer of 
the same century. Petit, to whom we referred a moment 
ago, in his Dissertation on the Nature of Comets says, that 



OMEGA. 



155 




PEOPLE SEEKING REFUGE IN CLOSED CELLARS. 



ISO OMEGA, 

the consternation steadily increased up to the fatal day, 
and that a country curate, unable to confess all who be- 
lieved their last hour was at hand, at sermon time told his 
parishioners not to be in such haste, for the eclipse had 
been put off for a fortnight ; and these good people were 
as ready to believe in the postponement of the eclipse as 
they had been in its malign influence. 

At the time of the last total solar eclipses visible in 
France, namely, those of May 12, 1706; May 22, 1724, and 
July 8, 1842, as also of the partial ones of October 9, 1847; 
July 28, 1851; March 15, 1858; July 18, i860, and Decem- 
ber 22, 1870, there was more or less apprehension on the 
part of the timid; at least, we know, from trustworthy 
sources, that in each of these cases these natural phenom- 
ena were interpreted by a certain class in Europe as possi- 
ble signs of divine wrath, and in several religious educa- 
tional establishments the pupils were requested to offer up 
prayers as the time of the eclipse drew near. This mys- 
tical interpretation of the order of nature is slowly disap- 
pearing among enlightened nations, and the next total 
eclipse of the sun, visible in southern France on May 28, 
1900, will probably inspire no fear on the French side of 
the Pyrenees ; but it might be premature to make the same 
statement regarding those who will observe it from the 
Spanish side of the mountains. 

Among uncivilized people these phenomena excite today 
the same terror which they once did among us. This fact 



OMEGA. 157 

is frequently attested by travellers, especially in Africa. 
During the eclipse of July 18, i860, in Algeria, men 
and women resorted to prayer or fled affrighted to their 
homes. During the eclipse of July 29, 1878, which was 
total in the United States, a negro, suddenly crazed with 
terror, and persuaded that the end of the world was com- 
ing, cut the throats of his wife and children. 

It must be admitted that such phenomena are well cal- 
culated to overwhelm the imagination. The sun, the god 
of day, the star upon whose light we are dependent, grows 
dim ; and, just before it becomes extinguished, takes on a 
sickly and mournful hue. The light of the sky pales, 
the animal creation is stricken with terror, the beast of 
burden falters at his task, the dog flees to its master, the 
hen retreats with her brood to the coop, the birds cease 
their songs, and have been seen even to drop dead with 
fright. Arago relates that during the total eclipse of 
the sun at Perpignan, on July 8, 1842, twenty thou- 
sand spectators were assembled, forming an impressive 
spectacle. " When the solar disc was nearly . obscured, 
an irresistible anxiety took possession of everybody ; each 
felt the need of sharing his impressions with his neigh- 
bor. A deep murmur arose, like that of the far away 
sea after a storm. This murmur deepened as the crescent 
of light grew less, and when it had disappeared and sud- 
den darkness had supervened, the silence which ensued 
marked this phase of the eclipse as accurately as the 



158 OMEGA, 

pendulum of our astronomical clock. The magnificence 
of the spectacle triumphed over the petulance of youth, 
over the frivolity which some people mistake for a sign 
of superiority, over the indiflFerence which the soldier 
frequently assumes. A profound silence reigned also in 
the sky : the birds had ceased their songs. After a sol- 
emn interval of about two minutes, joyous transports and 
frantic applause greeted with the same spontaneity the 
first reappearance of the solar rays, and the melancholy and 
indefinable sense of depression gave way to a deep and un- 
feigned exultation which no one sought to moderate or 
repress." 

Every one who witnessed this phenomenon, one of the 
most sublime which nature offers, was profoundly moved, 
and took away with him an impression never to be forgot- 
ten. The peasants especially were terrified by the dark- 
ness, as they believed that they were losing their sight. A 
poor child, tending his flock, completely ignorant of what 
was coming, saw the sun slowly growing dim in a cloud- 
less sky. When its light had entirely disappeared the 
poor child, completely carried away by terror, began to cr>' 
and call for help. His tears flowed again when the first 
ray of light reappeared. Reassured, he clasped his hands, 
crying, " O, beautiful sun ! " 

Is. not the cry of this child the cry of humanity ? 

So long as eclipses were not known to be the natural 
consequences of the motion of the moon about the earth, 



OMEGA , 



159 



and before it was understood that their occurrence could 
be predicted with the utmost precision, it was natural that 
they should have produced a deep impression and been as- 
sociated with the idea of the end of the world. The same 
is true of other celestial phenomena and notably of the 
sudden appearance of unknown suns, an event much rarer 
than an eclipse. 

The most celebrated of these appearances was that of 
1572. On the nth of November of that year, about a 
month after the massacre of St. Bartholomew, a brilliant 
star of the first magnitude suddenly appeared in the con- 



stellation of Cassi- 
faction was gener- 
part of the public, 
ible every night in 
on the part of sci- 
not explain its ap- 
ogers found a solu- 
in the assertion that 
the Magi, whose 
nounced the return 
the last judgment 
tion. This state- 
impression upon all 
The star gradually 
splendor, and at the 
teen months went 




* O, BEAUTIFUL SUN I * 



opeia. The stupe- 
al, not only on the 
to which it was vis- 
the sky, but also 
entists, who could 
pearance. Astrol- 
tion of the enigma 
it was the star of 
reappearance a n - 
of the Son of God, 
and the resurrec- 
ment made a deep 
classes of society, 
diminished in 
end of about eigh- 
out, without having 



i6o OMEGA. 

caused any other disaster than that which human folly 
itself adds to the misery of a none too prosperous planet. 
Science records several apparitions of this nature, but the 
above was the most remarkable. A like agitation has ac- 
companied all the grand phenomena of nature, especially 
those which have been unforeseen. In the chronicles of the 
middle ages, and even in more recent memoirs, we read of 
the terror which the aurora borealis, showers of shooting 
stars and the fall of meteorites have produced among the 
alarmed spectators. Recently, during the meteor shower 
of November 27, 1872) when the sky was filled with more 
than forty thousand meteorites belonging to the dispersed 
comet of Biela, women of the lower classes, at Nice es- 
pecially, as also at Rome, in their excitement sought infor- 
mation of those whom they thought able to explain the 
cause of these celestial fireworks, which they had at once 
associated with the end of the world and with the fall of 
the stars, which it was foretold would usher in that last 
great event. 

Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions have sometimes at- 
tained such proportions as to lead to the fear that the end 
of the world was at hand. Imagine the state of mind of 
the inhabitants of Herculaneum and of Pompeii when the 
eruption of Vesuvius buried them in showers of ashes ! 
Was not this for them the end of the world ? And more 
recently, were not those who witnessed the eruption of 
Krakatoa of thç same opinion? Impenetrable darkness 



OMEGA. i6i 

lasting eighteen hours, an atmosphere like a furnace, filling 
the eyes, nose and ears with ashes, the deep and incessant 
cannonade of the volcano, the falling of pumice stones from 
the black sky, the terrible scene illuminated only at inter- 
vals by the lurid lightning or the fire-balls on the spars and 
rigging of vessels, the thunder echoing from cloud and sea 
with an infernal musketry, the shower of ashes turning into 
a deluge of mud — this was the experience of the passen- 
gers of a Java vessel during the night of eighteen hours, 
from the 26th to the 28th of August, 1883, when a portion 
of the island of Krakatoa was hurled into the air, and the 
sea, after having first retreated, swept upon the shore to a 
height of thirty-five meters and to a distance of from one to 
ten kilometers over a coast-line of five hundred kilometers, 
and in the reflux carried away with it the four cities, Tjir- 
ingin, Mérak, Telok-Bétong and Anjer, and the entire pop- 
ulation of the region, more than forty thousand souls. For 
a long time the progress of vessels was hindered by floating 
bodies inextricably interlaced; and human fingers, with their 
nails, and fragments of heads, with their hair were found in 
the stomachs of fishes. Tho$e who escaped, or who saw 
the catastrophe from some vessel, and lived to welcome 
again the light of day, which had seemed forever extin- 
guished, relate in terror with what resignation they ex- 
pected the end of the world, persuaded that its very foun- 
dations were giving way and that the knell of a universal 
doom had sounded. One eye-witness assures us that he 



102 OMEGA. 

would not again pass through such an experience for all 
the wealth that could be imagined. The sun was extin- 
guished and death seemed to reign sovereign over nature. 
This eruption, moreover, was of such terrific violence that 
it was heard through the earth at the antipodes; it reached 
an altitude of twenty thousand meters, producing an at- 
mospheric disturbance which made the circuit of the entire 
globe in thirty-five hours (the barometer fell four milomet- 
ers in Paris even ), and left for more than a year in the 
upper layers of the atmosphere a fine dust, which, illu- 
mined by the sun, gave rise to those magnificent twilight 
displays admired so much throughout the world. 

These are formidable disturbances, partial ends of the 
world. Certain earthquakes deserve citation with these 
terrible volcanic eruptions, so disastrous have been their 
consequences. In the earthquake of Lisbon, November i, 
1755, thirty thousand persons perished ; the shock was felt 
over an area four times as large as that of Europe. When 
Lima was destroyed, October 28, 1724, the sea rose twenty- 
seven meters above its ordinary level, rushed upon the city 
and erased it so completely that not a single house was left. 
Vessels were found in the fields several kilometers from the 
shore. On December 10, 1869, ^^ inhabitants of the city 
of Onlah, in Asia Minor, alarmed by subterranean noises 
and a first violent trembling of the earth, took refuge on a 
neighboring hilltop, whence, to their stupefaction, they saw 
several crevasses open in the city which within a few 



OMEGA. 



^6j 




' FLOATING BODIES INEXTRICABLY INTERLACED." 



104 OMEGA. 

moments entirely disappeared in the bowels of the earth. 
We have direct evidence that under circumstances far less 
dramatic, as for example on the occasion of the earthquake 
at Nice, February 23, 1887, the idea of the end of the 
world was the very first which presented itself to the 
mind. 

The history of the earth furnishes a remarkable number 
of like dramas, catastrophes of a partial character, threat- 
ening the world's final destruction. It is fitting that we 
should devote a moment to the consideration of these great 
phenomena, as also to the history of that belief in the end 
of the world which has appeared in every age, though mod- 
ified by the progress of human knowledge. Faith has in 
part disappeared ; mystery and superstition, which struck 
the imagination of our ancestors, and which has been so 
curiously represented in the portals of our great cathe- 
drals, and in the sculpture and painting inspired by Chris- 
tian traditions, this theological aspect of the last great day, 
has given place to the scientific study of the probable life 
of the solar system to which we belong. The geocentric 
and anthropocentric conception of the universe, which 
makes man the center and end of creation, has become grad- 
ually transformed and has at last disappeared ; for we 
know that our humble planet is but an island in the infi- 
nite, that human history has thus far been founded on 
pure illusions, and that the dignity of man* consists in 
his intellectual and moral worth. Is not the destiny and 



OMEGA. 165 

sovereign end of the human mind the exact knowledge of 
things, the search after truth ? 

During the nineteenth century, evil prophets, more or 
less sincere, have twenty-five times announced the end of 
the world, basing their prophecies upon cabalistic calcula- 
tions destitute of serious foundation. Like predictions 
will recur so long as the race exists. 

But this historic interlude, although opportune, has for 
a moment interrupted our narrative. Let us hasten to 
return to the twenty-fifth century, for we have reached its 
most critical moment 




lÊjiâ^-f' 



CHAPTER VII. 



Inexorably, with a fatality no power could arrest, like 
a projectile speeding from the mouth of a cannon toward 
the target, the comet continued to advance, following its 
appointed path, and hurrying, with an ever-increasing 
velocity, toward the point in space at which the earth 
would be found on the night of July 14-15. The final 
calculations were absolutely without error. These two 
heavenly bodies — the earth and the comet — ^were to meet 
like two trains, rushing headlong upon each other, with 
resistless momentum, as if impelled to mutual destruction 
by an insatiable rage. But in the present instance the 
velocity of shock would be 865 times that of two express 
trains having each a speed of one hundred kilometers per 
hour. 



OMEGA, 167 

During the night of July 13-14, the comet spread over 
neariy the entire sky, and whirlwinds of fire could be seen 
by the naked eye, eddying about an axis oblique to the 
zenith. The appearance was that of an army of flaming 
meteors, in whose midst the flashing lightning produced 
the effect of a furious combat. The burning star had a 
revolution of its own, and seemed to be convulsed with 
pain, like a living thing. Immense jets of flame issued 
from various centers, some of a greenish hue, others red as 
blood, while the most brilliant were of a dazzling white- 
ness. It was evident that the sun was acting powerfully 
upon this whirlpool of gases, decomposing certain of them, 
forming detonating compounds, electrifying the nearer 
portions, and repelling the smoke from about the immense 
nucleus which was bearing down upon the world. The 
comet itself emitted a light far different from the sunlight 
reflected by the enveloping vapors ; and its flames, shoot- 
ing forth in ever-increasing volume, gave it the appearance 
of a monster, precipitating itself upon the earth to devour 
it. Perhaps the most striking feature of this spectacle 
was rhe absence of all sound. At Paris, as elsewhere, dur- 
ing that eventful night, the crowd instinctively main- 
tained silence, spellbound by an indescribable fascination, 
endeavoring to catch some echo of the celestial thunder — 
but not a sound was heard. 

The moon rose full, showing green upon the fiery back- 
ground of the sky, but without brilliancy and casting no 



i68 OMEGA, 

shadows. The night was no more night, for the stars had 
disappeared, and the sky glowed with an intense light. 

The comet was approaching the earth with a velocity 
of 41,000 jneters per second, or 2460 kilometers per min- 
ute, that is, 147,600 kilometers per hour; and the earth 
was itself travelling through space, from west to east, at 
the rate of 29,000 meters per second, 1740 kilometers per 
minute, or 104,400 kilometers per hour, in a direction 
oblique to the orbit of the comet, which for any meridian 
appeared at midnight in the northeast. Thus, in virtue 
of their velocities, these two celestial bodies were nearing 
each other at the rate of 173,000 kilometers per hour. 
When observation, which was in entire accord with the 
computations previously made, established the fact that 
the nucleus of the comet was at a distance no greater than 
that of the moon, everyone knew that two hours later the 
first phenomena of the coming shock would begin. 

Contrary to all expectation, Friday and Saturday, the 
13th and 14th of July were, like the preceding days, won- 
derfully beautiful ; the sun shone in a cloudless sky, the 
air was tranquil, the temperature rather high, but cooled 
by a light, refreshing breeze. Nature was in a joyous 
mood, the country was luxuriant with beauty, the streams 
murmured in the valleys, the birds sang in the woods ; 
but the dwelling places of man were heartrendingly sad. 
Humanity was prostrated with terror, and the impassible 
calm of nature stood over against the agonizing fear of 



OMEGA , 



j6ç 



the human heart in painful and harrowing contrast. 
Two millions of people had fled to Australia from Paris, 
London, Vienna, Berlin, St. Petersburg, Rome and Madrid. 
As the day of collision approached, the Trans-Atlantic 
Navigation company had been obliged to increase three- 
fold, fourfold, and even tenfold, the number of air-ships, 
which settled like flocks of birds upon San Francisco, 
Honolulu, Noumea, and the Australian cities of Mel- 




PEOPLB LEAVING PARIS. 



lyo OMEGA, 

bourne, Sidney and Pax. But this exodus of millions 
represented only the fortunate minority, and their absence 
was scarcely noticed in the towns and villages, swarming 
with restless and anxious life. 

Haunted by the fear of unknown perils, for several 
nights no one had been able to close their eyes, or even 
dared to go to bed. To do so, seemed to court the last 
sleep and to abandon all hope of awakening again. Every 
face was livid with terror, every eye was sunken ; the hair 
was dishevelled, the countenance haggard and stamped 
with the impress of the most frightful anguish which had 
ever preyed upon the human soul. 

The atmosphere was growing drier and warmer. Since 
the evening before, no one had bethought himself of food, 
and the stomach, usually so imperious in its demands, 
craved for nothing. A burning thirst was the first physio- 
logical effect of the dryness of the atmosphere, and the 
most self-restrained sought, in every possible way, to 
quench it, though without success. Physical pain had 
begun its work, and was soon to dominate mental suffer- 
ing. Hour by hour, respiration became more difficult, 
more exhausting and more painful. Little children, in 
the presence of this new suffering, appealed in tears to 
their mothers. 

At Paris, London, Rome and St. Petersburg, in every 
capital, in every city, in every village, the terrified popu- 
lation wandered about distractedly, like ants when their 



OMEGA 



171 




** STRANGERS TO THE UNIVERSAL PANIC." 



habitations are disturbed. All the business of ordinary 
life was neglected, abandoned, forgotten ; every project 
was set aside. No one cared any longer for anything, for 
his house, his family, his life. There existed a moral 
prostration and dejection, more complete than even that 
which is produced by sea-sickness. Some few, abandon- 
ing themselves to the exaltation of love, seemed to live 
only for each other, strangers to the universal panic. 

Catholic and Protestant churches, Jewish synagogues, 
Greek chapels, Mohammedan mosques and Buddhist tern- 



172 OMEGA. 

pies, the sanctuanes of the new Gallican religion — ^in 
short, the places of assembly of every sect into which the id- 
iosyncrasies of belief had divided mankind,' were thronged 
by the faithful on that memorable day of Friday, July 
13th ; and even at Paris the crowds besieging the portals 
were such that no one could get near the churches, within 
which were to be seen vast multitudes, all prostrate upon 
the ground. Prayers were muttered in low tones, but no 
chant, no organ, no bell was to be heard. The confes- 
sionals were surrounded by penitents, waiting their turn, 
as in those early days of sincere and naïve faith described 
by the historians of the middle ages. 

Everywhere on the streets and on the boulevards the 
same silence reigned ; not a sound disturbed the hush, 
nothing was sold, no paper was printed ; aviators, aero- 
planes, dirigible balloons were no more to be seen ; the 
only vehicles passing were the hearses bearing to the 
crematories the first victims of the comet, already numer- 
ous. The days of July 13th and 14th had passed without 
incident, but with what anxiety the fateful' night was 
awaited ! Never, perhaps, had there been so magnificent 
a sunset, never a sky so pure ! The orb of day seemed 
to go down in a sea of gold and purple ; its red disc dis- 
appeared below the horizon, but the stars did not rise — 
and night did not come ! To the daylight succeeded a 
day of cometary and lunar splendor, illuminated by a 
dazzling light, recalling that of the aurora borealis, but 



OMEGA. 173 

more intense, emanating from an immense blazing focus, 
which had not been visible during the day because it had 
been below the horizon, but which would certainly have 
rivalled the sun in brilliancy. Amid the universal plaint 
of nature, this luminous center rose in the west almost at 
the same time with the full moon, which climbed the sky 
with it like a sacrificial victim ascending the funeral pyre. 
The moon paled as it mounted higher, but the comet 
increased in brightness as the sun sank below the western 
horizon, and now, when the hour of night had come, it 
reigned supreme, a vaporous, scarlet sun, with flames of 
yellow and green, like immense extended wings. To the 
terrified spectator it seemed some enormous giant, taking 
sovereign possession of earth and sky. 

Already the cometary fringes had invaded the lunar 
orbit. At any moment they would reach the rarer limits 
of the earth's atmosphere, only two hundred kilometers- 
away. 

Then everyone beheld, as it were, a vast conflagration, 
kindled over the whole extent of the horizon, throwing 
skyward little violet flames, and almost immediately the 
brilliancy of the comet diminished, doubtless because just 
before touching the earth it had entered into the shadow 
of the planet and had lost that part of its light which 
came from the sun. This apparent decrease in brilliancy 
was chiefly due to contrast, for when the eye, less dazzled, 
had become accustomed to this new light, it seemed 



174 OMEGA, 

almost as intense as the former, but of a sickly, lurid, 
sepulchral hue. Never before had the earth been bathed 
in such a light, which at first seemed to be colorless, 
emitting lightning flashes from its pale and wan depths. 
The dryness of the air, hot as the breath of a furnace, 
became intolerable, and a horrible odor of sulphur, prob- 
ably due to the super-electrified ozone, poisoned the atmos- 
phere. Everyone believed his last hour was at hand. A 
terrible cry dominated every other sound. The earth is 
on fire ! The earth is on fire ! Indeed, the entire horizon 
was now illuminated by a ring of bluish flame, surround- 
ing the earth like the flames of a funeral pile. This, as 
had been predicted, was the carbonic-oxide, whose com- 
bustion in the air produced carbonic-anhydride. 

Suddenly, as the terrified spectator gazed silent and 
awestruck, holding his very breath in a stupor of fear, the 
vault of heaven seemed rent asunder from zenith to hori- 
zon, and from this yawning chasm, as from an enormous 
mouth, was vomited forth jets of dazzling greenish flame, 
enveloping the earth in a glare so blinding, that all who 
had not already sought shelter, men and women, the old 
and the young, the bold as well as the timid, all rushed 
with the impetuosity of an avalanche to the cellarways, 
already choked with people. Many were crushed to death, 
or succumbed to apoplexy, aneurismal ruptures, and wild 
delirium resulting in brain fever. 

On the terraces and in the observatories, however, the 



OMEGA. 175 

astronomers had remained at their posts, and several had 
succeeded in taking an uninterrupted series of photographs 
of the sky changes ; and from this time, but for a very 
brief interval, with the exception of a few courageous 
spirits, who dared to gaze upon the awful spectacle from 
behind the windows of some upper apartment, they were 
the sole witnesses of the collision. 

Computation had indicated that the earth would pene- 
trate the heart of the comet as a bullet would penetrate a 
cloud, and that the transit, reckotiing from the first instant 
of contact of the outer zones of the comet's atmosphere 
with those of the earth, would consume four and one-half 
hours, — 2i fact easily established, inasmuch as the comet, 
having a diameter about sixty-five times that of the earth, 
would be traversed, not centrally, but at one-quarter of the 
distance from the center, with a velocity of about 173,000 
kilometers per hour. Nearly forty minutes after the first 
instant of contact, the heat of this incandescent furnace, 
and the horrible odor of sulphur, became so suffocating 
that a few moments more of such torture would have 
sufficed to destroy every vestige of life. Even the astron- 
omers crept painfully from room to room within the ob- 
servatories which they had endeavored to close hermeti- 
cally, and sought shelter in the cellars ; and the young 
computor, whose acquaintance we have already made, was 
the last to remain on the terrace, at Paris, — z, few seconds 
only, but long enough to witness the explosion of a for- 



176 



OMEGA, 



inidable bolide, which was rushing southward with the 
velocity of lightning. But strength was lacking for fur- 
ther observations. One could breathe no longer. Besides 
the heat and the dryness, so destructive to every vital 
function, there was the carbonic-oxide which was already 
beginning to poison the atmosphere. The ears were filled 
with a dull, roaring sound, the heart beat ever more and 

more violently; and still 
this choking odor of 
sulphur ! At the same 
time a fiery rain fell 
from every quarter of 
the sky, a rain of shoot- 
ing stars, the immense 
majority of which did 
not reach the earth, al- 
though many fell upon 
the roofs, and the fires 
which they kindled 
could be seen in every 
direction. To these fires 
from heaven the fires of earth now made answer, and 
the world was surrounded with electric flashes, as by an 
army. Everyone, without thinking for an instant of 
flight, had abandoned all hope, expecting every moment 
to be buried in the ruins of the world, and those who 
still clung to each other, and whose only consolation was 




" A FIERY RAIN FELL FROM EVERY QUARTER 
OF THE SKY." 



OMEGA. lyy 

that of dying together, clung closer in a last embrace. 

But the main body of the celestial army had passed, and 
a sort of rarefaction, of vacuum, was produced in the 
atmosphere, perhaps as the result of meteoric explosions ; 
for suddenly the windows were shattered, blown outwards, 
and the doors opened of themselves. A violent wind 
arose, adding fury to the conflagration. Then the rain 
fell in torrents, but reanimating at the same time the 
extinguished hope of life, and waking piankind from its 
nightmare. 

" The XXVth Century / Death of the Pope and all the 
bishops ! Fall of the comet at Rome ! Paper ^ sir ? " 

Scarcely a half hour had passed before people began to 
issue from their cellars, feeling again the joy of living, 
and recovering gradually from their apathy. Even before 
one had really begun to take any account of the fires 
which were still raging, notwithstanding the deluge or 
rain, the scream of the newsboy was heard in the hardly 
awakened streets. Everywhere, at Paris, Marseilles, Brus- 
sels, London, Vienna, Turin and Madrid, the same news 
was being shouted, and before caring for the fires which 
were spreading on every side, everyone bought the popu- 
lar one-cent sheet, with its sixteen illustrated pages fresh 
from the press. 

" The Pope and the cardinals crushed to death! The 
sacred college destroyed by the comet I Extra I Extra ! " 

The newsboys drove a busy trade, for everyone was 



I7B 



OMEGA 




'• EXTRA ! ' 



anxious to know the truth of these an- 
nouncements, and eagerly bought the 
great popular socialistic paper. 

This is what had taken place. The 
American Hebrew, to whom we have al- 
ready referred, and who, on the preced- 
ing Tuesday, had managed to make sev- 
eral millions by the reopening of the 
faris and Chicago exchanges, had not 
for a moment yielded to despair, and, as 
in other days, the monasteries had accepted bequests made 
in view of the end of the world, so our indefatigable 
speculator had thought best to remain at his telephone, 
which he had caused to be taken down for the nonce into 
a vast subterranean gallery, hermetically closed. Con- 
trolling special wires uniting Paris with the principal cities 
of the world, he was in constant communication with 
them. The nucleus of the comet had contained within 
its mass of incandescent gas a certain number of solid 
uranolites, some of which measured several kilometers in 
diameter. One of these masses had struck the earth not 
far from Rome, and the Roman correspondent had sent 
the following news by phonogram : 

"All the cardinals and prelates of the council were 
assembled in solemn fête under the dome of St. Peter. In 
this grandest temple of Christendom, splendidly illumina- 
ted at the solemn hour of midnight, amid the pious invo- 



OMEGA, 179 

cations of the chanting brotherhoods, the altars smoking 
with the perfumed incense, and the organs filling the 
recesses of the immense church with their tones of thun- 
der, the Pope, seated upon his throne, saw prostrate at his 
feet his faithful people from every quarter of the world ; 
but as he rose to pronounce the final benediction a mass of 
iron, half as large as the city itself, falling from the sky 
with the rapidity of lightning, crushed the assembled 
multitudes, precipitating them into an abyss of unknown 
depth, a veritable pit of hell. All Italy was shaken, and 
the roar of the thunder was heard at Marseilles." 

The bolide had been seen in every city throughout 
Italy, through the showers of meteorites and the burning at- 
mosphere. It had illumined the earth like a new sun with a 
brilliant red light, and a terrible rending had followed its 
fall, as if the sky had really been split from top to bottom. 
(This was the bolide which the young calculator of the ob- 
servatory of Paris had observed when, in spite of her zeal, 
the suffocating fumes had driven her from the terrace.) 

Seated at his telephone, our speculator received his 
despatches and gave his orders, dictating sensational news 
to his journal, which was printed simultaneously in all 
the principal cities of the world. A quarter of an hour 
later these despatches appeared on the first page of the 
xxvth Century, in New York, St. Petersburg and Mel- 
bourne, as also in the capitals nearer Paris ; an hour after 
the first edition a second w£^s announced. 



i8o OMEGA, 

''^ Paris inflames! The cities of Europe destroyed! Rome 
in ashes ! Here^s your XXVth Century^ second edition ! " 

And in this new edition there was a very closely written 
article, from the pen of an accomplished correspondent, 
dealing with the consequences of the destruction of the 
sacred college. 

" Twenty-fifth Century ^ fourth edition ! New volcano 
in Italy ! Revolution in Naples ! Paper ^ sir ? " 

The second had been followed by the fourth edition 
without any regard to a third. It told how a bolide, 
weighing ten thousand tons, or perhaps more, had fallen 
with the velocity above stated upon the solfatara of Poz- 
zuoli, penetrating and breaking in the light and hollow 
crust of the ancient crater. The flames below had burst 
forth in a new volcano, which, with Vesuvius, illuminated 
the Elysian fields. 

" Twentyfifth Century^ sixth edition ! New island in 
the Mediterranean ! Conquests of England ! " 

A fragment of the head of the comet had fallen into the 
Mediterranean to the west of Rome, forming an irregular 
island, fifteen hundred meters in length by seven hundred 
in width, with an altitude of about two hundred meters. 
The sea had boiled about it, and huge tidal waves had 
swept the shores. But there happened to be an English- 
man nearby, whose first thought was to land in a creek of 
the newly formed island, and scaling a rock, to plant the 
British flag upon its highest peak. 



OMEGA, i8i 

Millions of copies of the journal of the famous specula- 
tor were distributed broadcast over the world during this 
night of July 14th, with accounts of the disaster, dictated 
by telephone from the office of its director, who had taken 
measures to monopolize every item of news. Everywhere 
these editions were eagerly read, even before the necessary 
precautions were taken to extinguish the conflagrations 
still raging. From the outset, the rain had afforded unex- 
pected succor, yet the material losses were immense, not- 
withstanding the prevailing use of iron in building con- 
struction. 

^^Twenty-fifth Century,^ tenth edition I Great miracle 
at Rome ! " 

What miracle, it was easy enough to explain. In this 
latest edition, the xxvth Century announced that its cor- 
respondent at Rome had given circulation to a rumor 
which proved to be without foundation ; that the bolide 
had not destroyed Rome at all, but had fallen quite a dis- 
tance outside the city. St. Peter and the Vatican had 
been miraculously preserved. But hundreds of millions of 
copies were sold in every country of the world. It was an 
excellent stroke of business. 

The crisis had passed. lyittle by little, men recovered 
their self-possession, rejoicing in the mere fact of living. 

Throughout the night, the sky overhead was illumi- 
nated by the lurid light of the comet, and by the meteor- 
ites which still fell in showers, kindled on every side new 



I82 



OMEGA 




TUB COUNCIL ASSEMBLED UNDER THE DOMB OF ST. PETER'S. 



OMEGA. 1S3 

conflagrations. When day came, about half past three in 
the morning, more than three hours had passed since the 
head of the comet had collided with the earth ; the 
nucleus had passed in a southwesterly direction, and the 
earth was still entirely buried in the tail. The shock had 
taken place at eighteen minutes after midnight ; that is to 
say, fifty-eight minutes after midnight, Paris time, exactly 
as predicted by the president of the Astronomical society 
of Prance, whose statement our readers may remember. 
Although, at the instant of collision, the greater part of 
the hemisphere on the side of the comet had been effected 
by the constricting dryness, the suffocating heat and the 
poisonous sulphurous odors, as well as by deadening 
stupor, due to the resistance encountered by the comet 
in traversing the atmosphere, the supersaturation of the 
ozone with electricity, and the mixture of nitrogen pro- 
toxide with the upper air, the other hemisphere had expe- 
rienced no other disturbance than that which followed 
inevitably from the destroyed atmospheric equilibrium. 
Fortunately, the comet had only skimmed the earth, and 
the shock had not been central. Doubtless, also, the 
attraction of the earth had had much to do with the fall 
of the bolides in Italy and the Mediterranean. At all 
events, the orbit of the comet had been entirely altered by 
this perturbation, while the earth and the moon continued 
tranquilly on their way about the sun, as if nothing had 
happened. The orbit of the comet had been changed by 



j84 omega, 

the earth's attraction from a parabola to an ellipse, its 
aphelion being situated near the ecliptic. When later 
statistics of the comet's victims were obtained, it was 
found that the number of the dead was one-fortieth of the 
population of Europe. In Paris alone, which extended 
over a part of the departments formerly known as the 
Seine and Seine-et-Oise, and which contained nine million 
inhabitants, there was more than two hundred thousand 
deaths. 

Prior to the fetal week, the mortalit>' had increased 
threefold, and on the loth fourfold. This rate of increase 
had been arrested by the confidence produced by the ses- 
sions of the Institute, and had even diminished sensibly 
during Wednesday. Unfortunately, as the threatening 
star drew near, the panic had resumed its sway. On the 
following Thursday the normal mortalit>' rate had in- 
creased fivefold, and those of weak constitution had suc- 
cumbed. On Friday, the 13th, the day before the dis- 
aster, owing to privations of ever>' kind, the absence of 
food and sleep, the heat and feverish condition which it 
induced, the effect of the excitement upon the heart and 
brain, the mortality at Paris had reached the hitherto 
unheard of figure of ten thousand ! On the eventful night 
of the 14th, owing to the crowded condition of the cellars, 
the vitiation of the atmosphere by the carbonic-oxide gas, 
and suffocation due to the drying up of the lining mem- 
brane of the throat, pulmonary congestion, anaesthesia, 



OMEGA. 1S5 

and arrest of the circulation, the victims were more num- 
erous than those of the battles of former times, the total 
for that day reaching the enormous sum of more than one 
hundred thousand. Some of those mortally effected lived 
until the following day, and a certain number survived 
longer, but in a hopeless condition. Not until a week 
had elapsed was the normal death-rate re-established. Dur- 
ing this disastrous month 17,500 children were bom at 
Paris, but nearly all died. Medical statistics, subtracting 
from the general total the normal mean, based upon a 
death-rate of twenty for every one thousand inhabitants, 
that is, 492 per day, or 15,252 for the month, which repre- 
sents the number of those who would have died indepen- 
dently of the comet, ascribed to the latter the difference 
between these two numbers, namely, 222,633 ; of these, 
more than one-half, or more than one hundred thousand, 
died of fear, by syncope, aneurisms or cerebral congestions. 

But this cataclysm did not bring about the end of the 
world. The losses were made good by an apparent in- 
crease in human vitality, such as had been observed for- 
merly after destructive wars ; the earth continued to 
revolve in the light of the sun, and humanity to advance 
toward a still higher destiny. 

The comet had, above all, been the pretext for the dis- 
cussion of every possible phase of this great and important 
subject — the end of the world. 



i86 



OMEGA 




OIRLS REFUSmO TO MARRY. 



SECOND PART. 



CHAPTER I. 



The events which we have just described, and the dis- 
cussions to which they gave rise, took place in the twenty- 
fifth century of the Christian era. Humanity was not 
destroyed by the shock of the comet, although this was 
the most memorable event in its entire history, and one 
never forgotten, notwithstanding the many transforma- 
tions which the race has since undergone. The earth 
had continued to rotate and the sun to shine ; little chil- 
dren had become old men, and their places had been filled 
by others in the eternal succession of generations. Cen- 
turies and ages had succeeded each other, and humanity, 
slowly advancing in knowledge and happiness, through 
a thousand transitory interruptions, had reached its apogee 
and accomplished its destiny. 

But how vast these series of transformations — ^physical 
and mental ! 

The population of Europe, from the year 1900 to the 
year 3600, had increased from 375 to 700 millions ; that 



iS8 OMEGA. 

of Asia, from 875 to icxx) millions ; that of the Americas, 
from 120 to 1500 millions ; that of Africa, from 75 to 200 
millions ; that of Australia, from 5 to 60 millions ; which, 
for the total population of the globe, gives an increase of 
2010 millions. And this inciease had continued, with 
some fluctuations. 

Language had become transformed. The never-ceasing 
progress of science and industry had created a large num- 
ber of new words, generally of Greek derivation. At the 
same time, the English language had spread over the 
entire world. From the twenty-fifth to the thirtieth cen- 
turies, the spoken language of Europe was based upon a 
mixture of English, of French, and of Greek derivatives. 
Every effort to create artificially a new universal language 
had failed. 

Long before the twenty-fifth century, war had disap- 
peared, and it became difficult to conceive how a race 
which pretended to knowledge and reason could have 
endured so long the yoke of clever rascals who lived at its 
expense. In vain had later sovereigns proclaimed, in 
high-sounding words, that war was a divine institution ; 
that it was the natural result of the struggle for existence ; 
that it constituted the noblest of professions ; that patriot- 
ism was the chief of virtues. In vain were battle-fields 
called fields of honor ; in vain were the statues of the 
victors erected in the most populous cities. It was, at 
last, observed that, with the exception of certain ants, 



OMEGA, i8ç 

no animal species had set an example of such boundless 
folly as the human race ; that the struggle for life did not 
consist in slaughtering one another, but in the conquest of 
nature ; that all the resources of humanity were absolutely 
wasted in the bottomless gulf of standing armies ; and 
that the mere obligation of military service, as formulated 
by law, was an encroachment upon human liberty, so 
serious that, under the guise of honor, slavery had been 
re-established. 

Men perceived that the military system meant the main- 
tenance of an army of parasites and idlers, yielding a pas- 
sive obedience to the orders of diplomats, who were sim- 
ply speculating upon human credulity. In early times, 
war had been carried on between villages, for the advan- 
tage and glory of chieftains, and this kind of petty warfare 
still prevailed in the nineteenth century, between the vil- 
lages of central Africa, where even young men and women, 
persuaded of their slavery, were seen, at certain times, to 
present themselves voluntarily at the places where they 
were to be sacrificed. Reason having, at last, begun to 
prevail, men had then formed themselves into provinces, 
and a warfare between provinces arose — Athens contend- 
ing with Sparta, Rome with Carthage, Paris with Dijon ; 
and history had celebrated the glorious wars of the Duke 
of Burgundy against the king of France, of the Normans 
against the Parisians, of the Belgians against the Flemish, 
of the Saxons against the Bavarians^ of the Venetians 



790 OMEGA, 

against the Florentines, etc., etc. Later, nations had been 
formed, thus doing away with provincial flags and boun- 
daries ; but men continued to teach their children to hate 
their neighbors, and citizens were accoutred for the sole 
purpose of mutual extermination. Interminable wars 
arose, wars ceaselessly renewed, between France, England, 
Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria, Russia, Turkey, etc. The 
development of weapons of destruction had kept pace with 
the progress of chemistry, mechanics, aeronautics, and 
most of the other sciences, and theorists were to be found, 
especially among statesmen, who declared that war. was 
the necessary condition of progress, forgetting that it was 
only the sorry heritage of barbarism, and that the majority 
of those who have contributed to the progress of science 
and industry, electricity, physics, mechanics, etc., have all 
been the most pacific of men. Statistics had proved that 
war regularly claimed forty million victims per century, 
iioo per day, without truce or intermission, and had 
made 1200 million corpses in three thousand years. It 
was not surprising that nations had been exhausted and 
ruined, since in the nineteenth century alone they had 
expended, to this end, the sum of 700,000 million francs. 
These divisions, appealing to patriotic sentiments skill- 
fully kept alive by politicians who lived upon them, long 
prevented Europe from imitating the example of America 
in the suppression of its armies, which consumed all its 
yit^l forces and wasted yearly more than ten thousand 



OMEGA. ICI 

million francs of fjie resources acquired at such sacrifice 
by the laborer, and from forming a United States of 
Europe. But though man could not make up his mind 
to do away with the tinsel of national vanity, woman came 
to his rescue. 

Under the inspiration of a woman of spirit, a league 
was formed of the mothers of Europe, for the purpose of 
'educating their children, especially their daughters, to a 
horror of the barbarities of war. The folly of men, the 
frivolity of the pretexts which arrayed nations against 
each other, the knavery of statesmen who moved heaven 
and earth to excite patriotism and blind the eyes of peo- 
ples ; the absolute uselessness of the wars of the past and 
of that European equilibrium which was always disturbed 
and never established ; the ruin of nations ; fields of battle 
strewn with the dead and the mangled, who, an hour 
before, lived joyously in the bountiful sun of nature ; 
widows and orphans — in short, all the misery of war was 
forced upon the mind, by conversation, recital and reading. 
In a single generation, this rational education had freed 
the young from this remnant of animalism, and inculcated 
a sentiment of profound horror for all which recalled the 
barbarism of other days. Still, governments refused to 
disarm, and the war budget was voted from year to year. 
It was then that the young girls resolved never to marry a 
man who had borne arms ; and they kept their vow. 

The early years of this league were trying ones, even 



IÇ2 OMEGA, 

for the young girls : for the choice of more than one fell 
upon some fine-looking officer, and, but for the universal 
reprobation, her heart might have yielded. There were, it 
is true, some desertions ; but, as those who formed these 
marriages were, from the outset, despised and ostracized 
by society, they were not numerous. Public opinion was 
formed, and it was impossible to stem the tide. 

For about five years there was scarcely a single marriage ' 
or union. Every citizen was a soldier, in France, in Ger- 
many, in Italy, in Spain, in every nation of Europe — all 
ready for a confederation of States, but never recoiling 
before questions represented by the national flag. The 
women held their ground ; they felt that truth was on 
their side, but their firmness would deliver humanity from 
the slavery which oppressed it, and that they could not 
fail of victory. To the passionate objurgations of certain 
men, they replied : " No ; we will have nothing more to 
do with fools ; " and, if this state of affairs continued, they 
had decided to keep their vow, or to emigrate to America, 
where, centuries before, the military system had disap- 
peared. 

The most eloquent appeals for disarmament were made 
at every session to the committee of administrators of the 
state, formerly called deputies or senators. Finally, after 
a lapse of five years, face to face with this wall of feminine 
opposition, which, day by day, grew stronger and more 
impregnable, the deputies of every country, as if animated 



OMEGA , 



m 




13 



IÇ4 OMEGA. 

by a common motive, eloquently advocated the cause of 
women, and that very week disarmament was voted in 
Germany, France, Italy, Austria and Spain. 

It was spring-time. There was no disorder. Innumer- 
able marriages followed. Russia and England had held 
aloof from the movement, the suffrage of women in these 
countries not having been unanimous. But as all the 
states of Europe were formed into a republic the ensuing 
year, uniting in a single confederated state, on the invita- 
tion of the government of the United States of Europe, 
these two great nations also decreed a gradual disarma- 
ment. Ivong before this time, India had been lost to Eng- 
land, and the latter had become a republic. As for Russia, 
the monarchical form of government still existed. It was 
then the middle of the twenty-fourth century, and from 
that epoch the narrow sentiment of patriotism was re- 
placed by the general one of humanity. 

Delivery from the ball and chain of military slavery, 
Europe had immediately gotten rid of thé bureaucracy 
which had also exhausted nations, condemned to perish, 
as it were, by plethora. But for this a radical revolution 
was necessary. From that time on, Europe had advanced 
as by magic in a marvellous progress — ^social, scientific, 
artistic and industrial. Taxation, diminished by nine- 
tenths, served only for the maintenance of internal order, 
the security of life and property, the support of schools, 
and the encouragement of new researches. But individual 



OMEGA. 195 

initiative was far more eflFective than the old-time official 
centralization which for so many years had stifled individ- 
ual effort, and bureaucracy was dead and buried. 

At last one breathed freely, one lived. In order to pay 
700,000 millions every century to citizens withdrawn 
from all productive work, and to maintain the bureau- 
cracy, governments had been obliged to increase taxa- 
tion to a fearful degree. The result was that everything 
was taxed ; the air one breathes, the water one drinks, 
the light and heat of the sun, bread, wine and every arti- 
cle of food, clothing, houses, the streets of cities, the coun- 
try roads, animals, horsey, oxen, dogs, cats, hens, rabbits, 
birds in cages, plants, flowers, musical instruments, pianos, 
organs, violins, zithers, flutes, trumpets, trades and pro- 
fessions, the married and the unmarried, children, furni- 
ture — everything, absolutely everything; and this taxa- 
tion had grown until it equalled the net product of all 
human labor, with the single exception of the "daily 
bread." Then, all work had ceased. It seemed thence- 
forth impossible to live. It was this state of affairs which 
led to the great social revolution of the international 
socialists, of which mention was made at the beginning 
of this book, and to others which followed it. But these 
upheavals had not definitely liberated Europe from the 
barbarism of by-gone days, and it was to the young 
women's league that humanity owes its deliverance. 

The unification of nations, of ideas, of languages, had 



igô 



OMEGA 




"voyages were made preferably by air-ships. 



brought about also that of weights and measures. No 
nation had resisted the universal adoption of the metric 
system, based upon the dimensions of the planet itself. A 
single kind of nioney was in circulation. One initial 
meridian ruled in geography. This meridian passed 
through the observatory of Greenwich, and at its antipode 
the day changed its name at noon. 

Nations which we call modern had vanished like those of 
the past. France had disappeared in the twenty-eighth cen- 
tury, after an existence of about two thousand years. Ger- 
many disappeared in the thirty-second ; Italy in the twenty- 
ninth ; England had spread over the surface of the ocean. 



OMEGA. IÇ7 

Meteorology had attained the precision of astronomy, 
and about the thirtieth century the weather could be pre- 
dicted without error. 

The forests, sacrificed to agriculture and the manufac- 
ture of paper, had entirely disappeared. 

The legal rate of interest had fallen to one-half of one 
per cent. 

Electricity had taken the place of steam. Railroads 
and pneumatic tubes were still in use, but only for the 
transportation of freight. Voyages were made preferably 
by dirigible balloons, aeroplanes and air-ships, especially 
in the daytime. 

This very fact of aerial navigation would have done 
away with frontiers if the progress of reason had not 
already abolished them. Constant intercourse between all 
parts of the globe had brought about internationalism, and 
the absolutely free exchange of goods and ideas. Custom- 
houses had been suppressed. 

The telephonoscope disseminated immediately the most 
important and interesting news. A comedy played at 
Chicago or Paris could be heard and seen in every city of 
the world. 

Astronomy had attained its end : the knowledge of the 
life of other worlds and the establishment of communica- 
tion with them. All philosophy, all religion, was founded 
upon the progress of astronomy. 

Marvellous instruments in optics and physics had been 



19^ OMEGA, 

invented. A new substance took the place of glass, and 
had yielded the most unexpected results to science. New 
natural forces had been conquered. 

Social progress had been no less great than that of sci- 
ence. Machines driven by electricity had gradually taken 
the place of manual labor. At the same time the produc- 
tion of food had become entirely revolutionized. Chemi- 
cal synthesis had succeeded in producing sugar, albumen, 
the amides and fats, from the air, water and vegetables, and, 
by skillfully varying the proportions, in forming the most 
advantageous combinations of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen 
and nitrogen, so that sumptuous repasts no longer consisted 
of the smoking remains of slaughtered animals — beef, veal, 
lamb, pork, chicken, fish and birds, — but were served 
amid the harmonies of music in rooms adorned with 
plants ever green and flowers ever in bloom, in an atmos- 
phere laden with perfumes. Freed from the vulgar neces- 
sity of masticating meats, the mouth absorbed the princi- 
ples necessary for the repair of organic tissues in exquisite 
drinks, fruits, cakes and pills. 

About the thirtieth century, especially, the nervous 
system began to grow more delicate, and developed in 
unexpected ways. Woman was still somewhat more nar- 
row-minded than man, and her mental operations differed 
from his as before (her exquisite sensibility responding to 
sentimental considerations before reason could act in the 
lower cells), and her head had remained smaller, her fore- 



OMEGA. içç 

head narrower ; but the former was so elegantly placed 
upon a neck of such supple grace, and rose so nobly from 
the shoulders and the bust, that it compelled more than 
ever the admiration of man, not only as a whole, but also 
by the penetrating sweetness and beauty of the mouth and 
the light curls of its luxuriant hair. Although compara- 
tively smaller than that of man, the head of woman had 
nevertheless increased in size with the exercise of the 
intellectual faculties ; but the cerebral circonvolutions had 
experienced the most change, having become more numer- 
ous and more pronounced in both sexes. In short, the 
head had grown, the body had diminished in size. Giants 
were no longer to be seen. 

Four permanent causes had modified insensibly the 
human form ; the development of the intellectual faculties 
and of the brain, the decrease in manual labor and bodily 
exercise, the transformation of food, and the marriage sys- 
tem. The first had increased the size of the cranium as 
compared with the rest of the body ; the second had de- 
creased the strength of the limbs ; the third had dimin- 
ished the size of the abdomen and made the teeth finer 
and smaller ; the tendency of the fourth had been rather 
to perpetuate the classic forms of human beauty : mascu- 
line beauty, the nobility of an uplifted countenance, and 
the graceful outlines of womanhood. About the two hun- 
dredth century of our era, a single race existed, rather 
small in stature, light colored, in which anthropologists 



200 OMEGA. 

might, perhaps, have discovered some form of Anglo- 
Saxon and Chinese descent. 

Humanity had tended towards unity, one race, one lan- 
guage, one general government, one religion. There were 
no more state religions ; only the voice of an enlightened 
conscience, and in this^nity former anthropological differ- 
ences had disappeared. 

In former ages poets had prophesied that in the mar- 
vellous progress of things man would finally acquire wings, 
and fly through the air by his muscular force alone ; but 
they had not studied the origin of anthropomorphic struc- 
ture and had forgotten that for a man to have at the same 
time arms and wings, he must belong to a zoological order 
of sextupeds which does not exist on our planet ; for man 
belongs to the quadrupeds, a type which has been grad- 
ually modified. But though he had not acquired new 
natural organs, he had acquired artificial ones, to say 
nothing of his physical transformation. He had con- 
quered the region of the air and could soar in the sky by 
light apparatus, whose motor power was electricity, and 
the atmosphere had become his domain as it had been that 
of the birds. It is very probable that if in the course of 
ages a winged race could have acquired, by the develop- 
ment of its faculties of observation, a brain analogous to 
that of even the most primitive man, it would have soon 
dominated the human species and replaced it by a new 
one, — a winged race of the same zoological type as the 



OMEGA . 



201 



quadrupeds and bipeds. But the force of gravity is an 
obstacle to any such organic development of the winged 
species, and humanity, grown more perfect, had remained 
master of the world. 

At the same time, in the lapse of ages, the animal popu- 
lation of the globe had completely changed. The wild 
species, lions, tigers, hyenas, panthers, elephants, giraffes, 
kangaroos, as also whales and seals, had become extinct. 




CHAPTER IL 

About the one hundredth 

century of the Christian era all 

#*v 'fJ'^ '■»/'' resemblance between the hu- 

r^^ ( wiS.^ man race and monkeys had 

disappeared. 

The nervous sensibility of 
man had become intensified to 
a marvellous degree. The 
sense of sight, of hearing, of 
smell, of touch, and of taste, 
had gradually acquired a deli- 
cacy far exceeding that of their 
earlier and grosser manifesta- 
Through the study of the electrical properties 
of living organisms, a seventh sense, the electric sense, 
was created outright, so to speak ; and everyone possessed 
the power of attracting and repelling both living and inert 
matter, to a degree depending upon the temperament of 
the individual. But by far the most important of all the 
senses, the one which played the greatest rôle in men's 
relation to each other, was the eighth, the psychic sense, 
by which communication at a distance became possible. 




/Ht^' 



tions. 



OMEGA, 20J 

A glimpse has been had of two other senses also, but 
their development had been arrested from the very outset. 
The first had to do with the visibility of the ultra violet 
rays, so sensitive to chemical tests, but wholly invisible 
to the human eye. Experiments made in this direction has 
resulted in the acquisition of no new power, and had con- 
siderably impaired those previously enjoyed. The second 
was the sense of orientation ; but every effort made to 
develop it had proved a failure, notwithstanding the 
attempt to make use of the results of researches in terres- 
trial magnetism. 

For some time past, the offspring of the once titled and 
aristocratic classes of society had formed a sickly and 
feeble race, and the governing body was recruited from 
among the more virile members of the lower class, who, 
however, were in their turn soon enervated by a worldly 
life. Subsequently, marriages were regulated on estab- 
lished principles of selection and heredity. 

The development of man's intellectual faculties, and the 
cultivation of psychical science, had wrought great changes 
in humanity. Latent faculties of the soul had been dis- 
covered, faculties which had remained dormant for per- 
haps a million years, during the earlier reign of the grosser 
instincts, and, in proportion as food based upon chemical 
principles was substituted for the coarse nourishment 
which had prevailed for so long a time, these faculties 
came to light and underwent a brilliant development. As 



204 



OMEGA 



a mental operation, thought became a different thing from 
what it now is. Mind acted readily upon mind at a dis- 
tance, by virtue of a transcendental magnetism, of which 
even children knew how to avail themselves. 

The first interastral com- 
munication was with the 
planet Mars, and the sec- 
ond with Venus^ the latter 
being maintained to the 
end of the world \ the 



•• 




*' EVEN CHILDREN KNEW HOW TO AVAIL THEMSELVES OF IT." 



OMEGA, 20S 

former was interrupted by the death of the inhabitants 
of Mars ; whereas intercourse with Jupiter was only just 
beginning as the human race neared its own end. A 
rigid application of the principles of selection in the 
formation of marriages had resulted in a really new race, 
resembling ours in organic form, but possessing wholly 
different intellectual powers. For the once barbarous and 
often blind methods of medicine, and even of surgery, had 
been substituted by those derived from a knowledge of 
hypnotic, magnetic and psychic forces, and telepathy had 
become a great and fruitful science. 

Simultaneously with man the planet also had been trans- 
formed. Industry had produced mighty but ephemeral 
results. In the twenty-fifth century, whose events we 
have just described, Paris had been for a long time a sea- 
port, and electric ships from the Atlantic, and from the 
Pacific by the Isthmus of Panama, arrived at the quays of 
the abbey of Saint Denis, beyond which the great capital 
extended far to the north. The passage from the abbey 
of Saint Denis to the port of London was made in a few 
hours, and many travellers availed themselves of this 
route, in preference to the regular air route, the tunnel, 
and the viaduct over the channel. Outside of Paris the 
same activity reigned ; for, in the twenty-fifth century 
also, the canal uniting the Mediterranean with the Atlan- 
tic had been completed, and the long detour by way of 
the Straits of Gibraltar had been abandoned ; and on the 



2o6 OMEGA. 

other hand a metallic tube, for carriages driven by com- 
pressed air, united the Iberian republic, formerly Spain 
and Portugal, with western Algeria, formerly Morocco. 
Paris and Chicago then had nine million inhabitants, Lon- 
don, ten ; New York, twelve. Paris, continuing its growth 
toward the west from century to century, now extended 
from the confluence of the Marne beyond St. Germain. 
All great cities had grown at the expense of the country. 
Agricultural products were manufactured by electricity ; 
hydrogen was extracted from sea-water ; the energy of 
waterfalls and tides were utilized for lighting purposes at 
a distance ; the solar rays, stored in summer, were distrib- 
uted in winter, and the seasons had almost disappeared, 
especially since the introduction of heat wells, which 
brought to the surface of the soil the seemingly inexhaust- 
ible heat of the earth's interior. 

But what is the twenty-fifth century in comparison with 
the thirtieth, the fortieth, the hundredth ! 

Everyone knows the legend of the Arab of Kazwani, 
as related by a traveller of the thirteenth century, who at 
that time, moreover, had no idea of the duration of the 
epochs of nature. " Passing one day," he said, " by a very 
ancient and very populous city, I asked one of its inhabi- 
tants how long a time it had been founded. ' Truly,' he 
replied, * it is a powerful city, but we do not know how 
long it has existed, and our ancestors are as ignorant upon 
this subject as we.' 



OMEGA. 



2oy 



1 ■-■y 



THE CHINESE CAPITOL. 



" Five centuries later I passed by the same spot, and 
could perceive no trace of the city. I asked a peasant 
who was gatheriilg herbs on its former site, how long it had 
been destroyed. ' Of a truth,' he replied, * that is a strange 
question. This field has always been what it now is.' 
* But was there not formerly a splendid city here ? ' I 
asked. ' Never,' he answered, ' at least so far as we can 
judge from what we have seen, and our fathers have never 
told us of any such thing.' 

** On my return five hundred years later to the same 
place I found it occupied by the sea ; on the shore stood a 
group of fishermen, of whom I asked at what period the 
land had been covered by the ocean. ' Is that question 
worthy of a man like you ? ' they replied ; * this spot has 
always been such as you see it today.' 



2o8 OMEGA. 

" At the end of five hundred years I returned again, and 
the sea had disappeared. I inquired of a solitary man 
whom I encountered, when this change had taken place ; 
and he gave me the same reply. 

" Finally, after an equal lapse of time, I returned once 
more, to find a flourishing city, more populous and richer 
in monuments than that which I had at first visited ; and 
when I sought information as to its origin, its inhabitants 
replied : 'The date of its^ foundation is lost in antiquity. 
We do not know how long it has existed, and our fathers 
knew no more of this than we do.' " 

How this fable illustrates the brevity of human mem« 
ory and the narrowness of our horizons in time as well 
as in space ! We think that the earth has always been 
what it now is ; we conceive with difficulty of the secu- 
lar changes through which it has passed ; the vastness 
of these periods overwhelms us, as in astronomy we are 
overv\'helmed by the vast distances of space. 

The time had come when Paris had ceased to be the 
capital of the world. 

After the fusion of the United States of Europe into a 
single confederation, the Russian republic from St. Peters- 
burg to Constantinople had formed a sort of barrier against 
the invasion of the Chinese, who had already established 
populous cities on the shores of the Caspian sea. The 
nations of the past having disappeared before the march of 
progress, and the nationalities of France, England, Ger- 



OMEGA. 20Ç 

many, Italy and Spain having for the same reason passed 
away, communication between the east and west, between 
Europe and America, had become more and more easy ; 
and the sea being no longer an obstacle to the march of 
humanity, free now as the sun, the new territory of the 
vast continent of America had been preferred by industrial 
enterprise to the exhausted lands of western Europe, and 
already in the twenty-fifth century the center of civiliza- 
tion was located on the shores of Lake Michigan in a new 
Athens of nine million inhabitants, rivalling Paris. There- 
after the elegant French capital had followed the example 
of its predecessors, Rome, Athens, Memphis, Thebes, Nine- 
veh and Babylon. The wealth, the resources of every 
kind, the great attractions, were elsewhere. 

In Spain, Italy and France, gradually abandoned by 
their inhabitants, solitude spread slowly over the ruins of 
former cities. Lisbon had disappeared, destroyed by the 
sea ; Madrid, Rome, Naples and Florence were in ruins. 
A little later, Paris, Lyons and Marseilles were overtaken 
by the same fate. 

Human types and languages had undergone such 
transformations that it would have been impossible 
for an ethnologist or a linguist to discover anything 
belonging to the past. For a long time neither Spanish, 
Portuguese, Italian, French, English nor German had 
been spoken. Europe had migrated beyond the Atlantic, 
and Asia had invaded Europe. The Chinese to the num- 



210 OMEGA. 

ber of a thousand million had spread over western Europe. 
Mingling with the Anglo-Saxon race, they formed in some 
measure a new one. Their principal capital stretched like 
an endless street along each side of the canal from Bor- 
deaux to Toulouse and Narbonne. 

The causes which led to the foundation of Lutetia 
on an island in the Seine, which had raised this city 
of the Parisians to the zenith of its power in the 
twenty-fourth century, were no longer operative, and 
Paris had disappeared simultaneously with the causes 
to which it owed its origin and splendor. Commerce 
had taken possession of the Mediterranean and the great 
oceanic highways, and the Iberian canal had become 
the emporium of the world. 

The littoral of the south and west of ancient France 
had been protected by dikes against the invasion of the 
sea, but, owing to the increase of population in the south 
atid southwest, the north and northwest had been neg- 
lected, and the slow and continual subsidence of this 
region, observed ever since the time of Caesar, had reduced 
its level below that of the sea ; and as the channel was 
ever widening, and the cliffs between Cape Helder and 
Havre were being worn away by the action of the sea, 
the Dutch dikes had been abandoned to the ocean, which 
had invaded the Netherlands, Belgium, and northern 
Prance, Amsterdam, Utrecht, Rotterdam, Antwerp, Ver- 
sailles, Lille, Amiens and Rouen had sunk below the 



OMEGA 



211 




THE RUINS OF PARIS. 



2T2 OMEGA. 

water, and ships floated above their sea-covered ruins. 

Paris itself, finally abandoned in the sixtieth century, 
when the sea had surrounded it as it now does Havre, was, 
in the eighty-fifth century, covered with water to the 
height of the towers of Notre Dame, and all that memor- 
able plain, where were wrought out, during so many 
years, the most brilliant of the world's civilizations, was 
swept by angry waves.* 

As in the case of languages, ideas, customs and laws, so, 
also, the manner of reckoning time had changed. It was 
still reckoned by years and centuries, but the Christian era 
had been discarded, as also the holy days of the calendar 
and the eras of the Mussulman, Jewish, Chinese and 
African chronologies. There was now a single calendar 
for the entire race, composed of tw^elve months, divided 
into four equal trimesters of three months of thirty-one, 
thirty, and thirty days, each trimester containing exactly 
thirteen weeks. New Year's Day was a fête day, and was 
not reckoned in with the year ; every bisextile year there 



♦ In the nineteenth century, researches in natural history had revealed the fact 
that secular vertical oscillations, vary with the locality, were taking place in the earth's 
crust, and had proved that, from prehistoric times, the soil of western and southern 
France had been slowly sinking and the sea slowly gaining upon the land. One after 
another, the islands of Jersey, of Minquiers, of Chaussey, of Écrehou, of Cezembre, of 
Mont-Saint-Michel, haa been detached from the continent by the sea ; the cities of Is, 
Helion, Tommeu, Portzmeûr, Harbour, Saint I^ouis, Monny, Bourgneuf, La Feillette, 
Paluel and Nazado had been buried beneath its waves, and the Armorican peninsula 
had slowly retreated before the advancing waters. The hour of this invasion by the sea 
had struck, from century to century, also for Herbavilla ; to the west of Nantes : for 
Saint-Denis-Chef-de-Caux, to the north of Havre ; for Saint-Etienne-de-Paluel and for 
Gardoine, to the north ot Dol ; for Tolente, to the west of Brest ; more than eighty 
habitable cities of Holland had been submerged in the eleventh century, etc., etc. In 
other regions the reverse had taken place, and the sea had retired ; but to the north 
and west of Paris this double action ol the subsidence of the land and the wearing awav 
of the shores had. in less than seven thousand years, made Paris accessible to ships of 
the greatest tonnage. 



OMEGA, 213 

were two. The week had been retained. Every year 
commenced on the same day — Monday ; and the same 
dates always corresponded to the same days of the week. 
The year began with the vernal equinox all over the 
world. The era, a purely astronomical division of time, 
began with the coincidence of the December solstice with 
perihelion, and was renewed every 25,765 years. This 
rational method had succeeded the fantastic divisions of 
time formerly in use. 

The geographical features of France, of Europe and of 
the entire world had become modified, from century to 
century. Seas had replaced continents, and new deposits 
at the bottom of the ocean covered the vanished ages, 
forming new geological strata. Elsewhere, continents had 
taken the place of seas. At the mouth of the Rhone, 
for example, where the dry land had already encroached 
upon the sea from Aries to the littoral, the continent 
gained to the south ; in Italy, the deposits of the Po had 
continued to gain upon the Adriatic, as those of the Nile, 
the Tiber, and other rivers of later origin, had gained upon 
the Mediterranean ; and in other places the dunes had in- 
creased, by various amounts, the domain of the dry land. 
The contours of seas and continents had so changed that 
it would have been absolutely impossible to make out the 
ancient geographical maps of history. 

The historian of nature does not deal with periods of 
five centuries, like the Arab of the thirteenth century men- 



2Î4 OMEGA. 

tioned in the legend related a moment ago. Ten times this 
period would scarcely suffice to modify, sensibly, the con- 
figuration of the land, for five thousand years are but a 
ripple on the ocean of time. It is by tens of thousands of 
years that one must reckon if one would see continents 
sink below the level of seas, and new territories emerging 
into the sunlight, as the result of the secular changes in 
the level of the earth's crust, whose thickness and density 
varies from place to place, and whose weight, resting upon 
the still plastic and mobile interior, causes vast areas to 
oscillate. A slight disturbance of the equilibrium, an in- 
significant dip of the scales, a change of less than a hun- 
dred meters, often, in the length of the earth's diameter 
of twelve thousand kilometers, is sufficient to transform 
the surface of the world. 

And if we examine the ensemble of the history of the 
earth, by periods of one hundred thousand years, for exam- 
ple, we see, that in ten of these great epochs, that is, in a 
million years, the surface of the globe has been many 
times transformed. 

If we advance into the future a period of one or two 
million years, we witness a vast flux and reflux of life and 
things. How many times in this period of ten or twenty 
thousand centuries, how many times have the waves of the 
sea covered the former dwelling-places of man ! How 
many times the earth has emerged anew, fresh and regen- 
erated, from the abysses of the ocean ! In primitive times, 



OMEGA. 215 

when the still warm and liquid planet was covered only 
by a thin shell, cooling on the surface of the burning 
ocean within, these changes took place brusquely, by sud- 
den breaking down of natural barriers, earthquakes, vol- 
canic eruptions, and the uprising of mountain ranges. 
Later, as this superficial crust grew thicker and became 
consolidated, these transformations were more gradual ; 
the slow contraction of the earth had led to the formation 
of hollow spaces within the solid envelope, to the falling 
in of portions of this envelope upon the liquid nucleus, 
and finally to oscillating movements which had changed 
the profile of the continents. Later still, insensible modi- 
fications had been produced by external agents ; on the 
one hand the rivers, constantly carrying to their mouths 
the débris of the mountains, had filled up the depths of 
the sea and slowly increased the area of the dry land, mak- 
ing in time inland cities of ancient seaports ; and on the 
other hand, the action of the waves and of storms, con- 
stantly eating away the shores, had increased the area of 
the ocean at the expense of the dry land. Ceaselessly the 
geographical configuration of the shore had changed. For 
the historian our planet had become another world. Every- 
thing had changed : continents, seas, shores, races, lan- 
guages, customs, body and mind, sentiments, ideas — every- 
thing. France beneath the waves, the bottom of the At- 
lantic in the light of the sun, a portion of the United 
States gone, a continent in the place of Oceanica, China 



2l6 



OMEGA . 



submerged ; death where was life, and life where was 
death ; and everywhere sunk into eternal oblivion all 
which had once constituted the glory and greatness of 
nations. If today one of us should emigrate to Mars, he 
would find himself more at home than if, after the lapse 
of these future ages, he should return to the earth. 




CHAPTER III. 

While these great changes in the planets were taking 
place, humanity had continued to advance ; for progress is 
the supreme law. Terrestrial life, which began with the 
rudimentary protozoans, without mouths, blind, deaf, mute 
and almost wholly destitute of sensation, had acquired 
successively the marvellous organs of sense, and had finally 
reached its climax in man, who, having also grown more 
perfect with the lapse of centuries, had risen from his 
primitive savage condition as the slave of nature to the 
position of a sovereign who ruled the world by mind, and 
who had made it a paradise of happiness, of pure contem- 
plation, of knowledge and of pleasure. 

Men had attained that degree of intelligence which 
enabled them to live wisely and tranquilly. After a gen- 
eral disarmament had been brought about, so rapid an in- 
crease in public riches and so great an amelioration in the 
well-being of every citizen was observed, that the efforts 
of intelligence and labor, no longer wasted by this intel- 
lectual suicide, had been directed to the conquest of new 

forces of nature and the constant improvement of civili- 

217 



218 OMEGA, 

zation. The human body had become insensibly trans- 
formed, or more exactly, transfigured. 

Nearly all men were intelligent They remembered 
with a smile the childish ambitions of their ancestors 
whose aspiration was to be some^?//^ rather than somethings 
and who had struggled so feverishly for outward show. 
They had learned that happiness resides in the soul, that 
contentment is found only in study, that love is the sun of 
the heart, that life is short and ought not to be lived super- 
ficially ; and thus all were happy in the possession of 
liberty of conscience, and careless of those things which 
one cannot carry away. 

Woman had acquired a perfect beauty. Her form had 
lost the fullness of the Greek model and had become more 
slender ; her skin was of a translucent whiteness ; her eyes 
were illuminated by the light of dreams; her long and 
silky hair, in whose deep chestnut were blended all the 
ruddy tints of the setting sun, fell in waves of rippling 
light ; the hea\y animal jaw had become idealized, the 
mouth had grown smaller, and in the presence of its sweet 
smile, at the sight of its dazzling pearls between the soft 
rose of the lips, one could not understand how lovers could 
have pressed such fer\'^ent kisses upon the lips of women 
of earlier times, specimens of whose teeth, resembling 
those of animals, had been preserved in the museums of 
ethnography. It really seemed as if a new race had come 
into existence, infinitely superior to that to which Aris- 



OMEGA. 2IÇ 

totle, Kepler, Victor Hugo, Phryne, or Diana ôf Poictiers 
had belonged. 

Thanks to the progress in physiology, hygiene, and anti- 
septic science, as well as to the general well-being and 
intelligence of the race the duration of human life had 
been greatly prolonged, and it was not unusual to see per- 
sons who had attained the age of 150 years. Death had 
not been conquered, but the secret of living without grow- 
ing old had been found, and the characteristics of youth 
were retained beyond the age of one hundred. 

But one fatherland existed on the planet, which, like a 
chorus heard above the chords of some vast harmony, 
marched onward to its high destiny, shining in the splen- 
dor of intellectual supremacy. 

The internal heat of the globe, the light and warmth of 
the sun, terrestrial magnetism, atmospheric electricity, 
inter-planetary attraction, the psychic forces of the human 
soul, the unknown forces which preside over destinies, — 
all these science had conquered and controlled for the 
benefit of mankind. The only limits to its conquests were 
the limitations of the human faculties themselves, which, 
indeed, are feeble, especially when we compare them with 
those of certain extra-terrestrial beings. 

All the results of this vast progress, so slowly and grad- 
ually acquired by the toil of centuries, must, in obedience 
to a law, mysterious and inconceivable for the petty race 
of man, reach at last their apogee, when further advance 



OMEGA 



becomes impossible. The geometric curve which repre- 
sents this progress of the race, falls as it rises : starting 
from zero, from the primitive nebulous cosmos, ascending 
through the ages of planetary and human history- to its 
lofty summit, to descend thereafter into a night that 
knows no morrow. 

Yes ! all this progress, all this knowledge, all this hap- 
piness and glory, must one day be swallowed up in obliv- 
ion, and the voice of history itself be forever silenced. 

Life had a be- ginning: it 

must have an ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^H end. The sun 




of human 
en, had ascend- 
to its meridi- 
to set and to 
endless night, 
then all this 
struggling, all 
quests, all 
if light and 
to an end? 
apostles, in 
have poured 
on the earth, 
in its turn to 
Everything 



decay, and the village cemetery. 



hopes had ris- 
ed victoriously 
an, it was now 
disappear in 
To what end 
glory, all this 
these con- 
these vanities, 
life must come 
Martyrs and 
every cause, 
out blood up- 
destined also 
perish. 

is doomed to 
death must re- 



OMEGA. 221 

main the final sovereign of the world. Have you ever 
thought, in viewing a village cemetery, how small it is, to 
contaii; the generations buried there from time immemor- 
able ? Man existed before the last glacial epoch, which 
dates back 200,000 years ; and the age of man extends over 
a period of more than 250,000 years. Written history 
dates from yesterday. Cut and polished flints have been 
found at Paris, proving the presence of man on the banks 
,of the Seine long before the first historic record of the 
Gauls. The Parisians of the close of the nineteenth cen- 
tury walk upon ground consecrated by more than ten 
thousand years of ancestry. What remains of all who 
have swarmed in this forum of the world ? What is left 
of the Romans, the Greeks, and the Asiatics, whose em- 
pires lasted for centuries ? What remains of the millions 
who have existed? Not even a handful of ashes. 

A human being dies every second, or about 86,000 a 
day, and an equal number, or to speak more exactjy, a 
little more than 86,000 are born daily. This figure, true 
for the nineteenth century, applies to a long period, if we 
increase it proportionately to the time. The population 
of the globe has increased from epoch to epoch. In the 
time of Alexander there were perhaps a thousand million 
living beings on the surface of the earth. At the end of 
the nineteenth century fifteen hundred million ; in the 
twenty-second century two thousand million ; in the 
twenty-ninth three thousand million ; at its maximum 



222 OMEGA, 

the population of the globe had reached one hundred 
thousand million. Then it had begun to decrease. 

Of the innumerable human bodies which have lived, not 
one remains. All have been resolved into their elements, 
which have again formed new individuals. 

All that fills the passing day — labor, pleasure, grief and 
happiness — vanishes with it into oblivion. Time flies, and 
the past exists no longer ; what has been, has disappeared 
in the gulf of eternity. The visible world is vanishing 
every instant. Only the invisible is real and enduring. 

During the ten million years of history, the human 
race, surviving generation after generation, as if it were a 
real thing, had been greatly modified from both a physical 
and moral point of view. It had always remained master 
of the world, and no new race had aspired to its sover- 
eignty ; for races do not come down from heaven or rise 
from hell ; no Minerva is born full-armed, no Venus awakes 
full-grown in a shell of pearl on the seashore ; everything 
grows, and the human race, with its long line of ancestry, 
was from the very beginning the natural result of the vital 
evolution of the planet. . Under the law of progress, it had 
emerged from the limbo of animalism, and by the contin- 
ued action of this same law of progress it had become grad- 
ually perfected, modified and refined. 

But the time had come when the conditions of terrestrial 
life began to fail ; when humanity, instead of advancing, 
was itself to enter upon its downward path. 



OMEGA, 223 

The internal heat of the globe, still considerable in the 
nineteenth century, although it had ceased to have any 
eflFect upon surface temperature, which was maintained 
solely by the sun, had slowly diminished, and the earth 
had, at last, become entirely cold. This had not directly 
influenced the physical conditions of terrestrial life, which 
continued to depend upon the atmosphere and solar heat. 
The cooling of the earth cannot bring about the end of 
the world. 

Imperceptibly, from century to century, the earth's sur- 
face had become levelled. The action of the rain, snow, 
frost and solar heat upon the mountains, the waters of tor- 
rents, rivulets and rivers, had slowly carried to the sea the 
debris of every continental elevation. The bottom of the 
sea had risen, and in nine million years the mountains had 
almost entirely disappeared. Meanwhile, the planet had 
grown old faster than the sun ; the conditions favorable to 
life had disappeared more rapidly than the solar light and 
heat. 

This conception of the planet's future conforms to our 
present knowledge of the universe. Doubtless, our logic 
is radically incomplete, puerile even, in comparison with 
the real and eternal Truth, and might be justly compared 
with that of two ants talking together about the history of 
France. But, confessing the modesty which befits the 
finite in presence of the infinite, and acknowledging our 
nothingness as compared with the universe, we cannot 



224 OMEGA. 

avoid the necessity of appearing logical to ourselves ; we 
cannot assume that the abdication of reason is a better 
proof of wisdom than the use of it. We believe that an 
intelligent order presides over the universe and controls 
the destiny of worlds and their inhabitants ; that the 
larger members of the solar system must last longer than 
the lesser ones, and, consequently, that the life of each 
planet is not equally dependent upon the sun, and cannot, 
therefore, continue indefinitely, any more than the sun 
itself Moreover, direct observation confirms this general 
conception of the universe. The earth, an extinct sun, 
has cooled more rapidly than the sun. Jupiter, so im- 
mense, is still in its youth. The moon, smaller than Mars, 
has reached the more advanced stages of astral life, per- 
haps even has reached its end. Mars, smaller than the 
earth, is more advanced than the earth and less so than 
the moon. Our planet, in its turn, must die before Jupi- 
ter, and this, also, must take place before the sun becomes 
extinct. 

Consider, in fact, the relative sizes of the earth and the 
other planets. The diameter of Jupiter is eleven times 
that of the earth, and the diameter of the sun about ten 
times that of Jupiter. The diameter of Saturn is nine 
times that of the earth. It seems to us, therefore, natural 
to believe that Jupiter and Saturn will endure longer 
than our planet, Venus, Mars or Mercury, those pigmies 
of the sysjem ! 



OMEGA. 225 

Events justified these deductions of science. Dangers 
lay in wait for us in the immensity of space ; a thousand 
accidents might have befallen us, in the form of comets, 
extinct or flaming suns, nebulae, etc. But the planet did 
not perish by an accident. Old age awaited the earth, as 
it waits for all other things, and it grew old faster than the 
sun. It lost the conditions necessary for life more rapidlj^ 
than the central luminary lost its heat and its light. 

During the long periods of its vital splendor, when, 
leading the chorus of the worlds, it bore on its surface an 
intelligent race, victors over the blind forces of nature, a 
protecting atmosphere, beneath which went on all the 
play of life and happiness, guarded its flourishing empires. 
An essential element of nature, water, regulated terrestrial 
life; from the very beginning this element had entered 
into the composition of every substance, vegetable, animal 
and human. It formed the active principle of atmospheric 
circulation ; it was the chief agent in the changes of cli- 
mate and seasons ; it was the sovereign of the terrestrial 
state. 

From century to century the quantity of water in the 
sea, the rivers and the atmosphere diminished. A portion 
of the rain water was absorbed by the earth, and did not 
return to the sea ; for, instead of flowing into the sea over 
impermeable strata, and so forming either springs or subter- 
ranean and submarine watercourses, it had filtered deeper 

within the surface, insensibly filling every void, every 

15 



226 OMEGA. 

fissure, and saturating the rocks to a great depth. So 
long as the internal heat of the globe was sufficient to 
prevent the indefinite descent of this water, and to convert 
it into vapor, a considerable quantity remained upon the 
surface ; but the time came when the internal heat of the 
globe was entirely dispersed in space and offered no ob- 
stacle to infiltration. Then the surface water gradually 
diminished ; it united with the rocks, in the form of 
hydrates, and thus disappeared from circulation. 

Indeed, were the loss of the surface water of the globe 
to amount only to a few tenths of a millimeter yearly, in 
ten million years none would remain. 

This vapor of water in the atmosphere had made warmth 
and life possible ; with its disappearance came cold and 
death. If at present the aqueous vapor of the atmosphere 
should disappear, the heat of the sun would be incapable of 
maintaining animal and vegetable life ; life which, more- 
over, could not exist, inasmuch as vegetables and animals 
are chiefly composed of water.* 

The invisible vapor of water, distributed through the 
atmosphere, exercises the greatest possible influence on 



• of all terrestrial substances water has the ^eatest specific heat. It cools more 
slowly than any other. Its specific heat is four times greater than that of air. When 
the temperature of a kilogram of water falls one degree, it raises the temperature of 
four kilograms of air one degree. But water is seven hundred and seventy times 
heavier than air, so that if we compare two equal volumes of water and air, we find 
that a cubic meter of water, in losing one degree of temjjerature, raises the tempera- 
ture of seven hundred and seventy times four, or 3080 cubic meters of air by the same 
amount. This is the explanation of the influence of the sea in modifying the climate 
of continents. The heat of summer is stored in the ocean and is slowly çiven out in 
winter. This explains why islands and seashores have no extremes ofclimate. The 
heat of summer is tempered by the breezes, and the cold of winter is alleviated by the 
heat stored in the water. 



OMEGA, 227 

temperature. In quantity this vapor seems almost negli- 
gible, since oxygen and nitrogen alone form ninety-nine 
and one-half per cent, of the air we breathe ; and the 
remaining one-half of one per cent, contains, besides the 
vapor of water, carbonic acid, ammonia and other sub- 
stances. There is scarcely more than a quarter of one per 
cent, of aqueous vapor. If we consider the constituent 
atoms of the atmosphere, the physicist tells us that for 
two hundred atoms of oxygen and nitrogen there is 
scarcely one of water-vapor ; but this one atom has eighty 
times more absorptive energy than the two hundred 
others. 

The radiant heat of the sun, after traversing the atmos- 
phere, warms the surface of the earth. The heat waves 
reflected from the warmed earth are not lost in space. 
The aqueous vapor atoms, acting like a barrier, turn them 
back and preserve them for our benefit. 

This is one of the most brilliant and the most fruitful 
discoveries of modem physics. The oxygen and nitrogen 
molecules of dry air do not oppose the radiation of heat ; 
but, as we have just said, one molecule of water-vapor 
possesses eighty times the absorptive energy of the other 
two hundred molecules of dry air, and consequently such 
a molecule is sixteen thousand times more efficacious in so 
far as the conservation of heat is concerned. So that it is 
the vapor of water and not the air, properly speaking, 
which regulates the conditions of life upon the earth. 



228 OMEGA. 

If one should remove this vapor from the surrounding 
atmosphere, a loss of heat would go on at the surface simi- 
lar to that which takes place in high altitudes, for the 
atmosphere would then be as powerless to retain heat as 
a vacuum is. A cold like that at the surface of the moon 
would be the result. The soil would still receive heat 
directly from the sun, but even during the daytime this 
heat would not be retained, and after sunset the earth 
would be exposed to the glacial cold of space, which 
appears to be about 273° below zero. Thus vegetable, 
animal and human life would be impossible, if it had not 
already become so, through the very disappearance of the 
water. 

Certainly we may and must admit that water has not 
been so essential a condition of life on all the worlds of 
space as it has been upon our own. The resources of 
nature are not limited by human observation. There 
must be, there are, in the limitless realms of space, mill- 
ions and millions of suns differing from ours, systems of 
worlds in which other substances, other chemical com- 
binations, other physical and mechanical conditions, other 
environments,j^iiave produced beings absolutely unlike our- 
selves, living another life, possessed of other senses, 
differing in organization from ourselves far more than 
the fish or mollusk of the deep sea differs from the 
bird or the butterfly. But we are here studying the 
conditions of terrestrial life, and these conditions are 



OMEGA 



22Ç 




FOSSIL SPECIMENS OF THE XXTH. CENTURY. 



230 OMEGA. 

determined by the constitution of the planet itself. 

The gradual filtration of water into the interior of the 
earth, keeping pace with the radiation of the earth's orig- 
inal heat into space, the slow formation of oxides and 
hydrates, in about eight million years reduced by three- 
fourths the quantity of water in circulation on the earth's 
surface. As a consequence of the disappearance of con- 
tinental elevations, whose débris, obeying passively the 
laws of gravity, were slowly carried by the rain, the wind, 
and the streams to the sea, the earth had become almost 
level and the seas more shallow ; but as evaporation and 
the formation of aqueous vapor goes on only from the sur- 
face and does not depend upon the depth, the atmosphere 
was still rich in vapor. The conditions of life upon the 
planet were then similar to those we now observe on Mars ; 
where we see that great oceans have disappeared or have 
become mere inland seas of slight depth, that the conti- 
nents are vast plains, that evaporation is active, that a con- 
siderable quantity of aqueous vapor still exists, that rains 
are rare, that snows abound in the polar regions and are 
almost entirely melted during the summer of each year — 
in short, a world still habitable by beings analogous to 
those that people the earth. 

This epoch marked the apogee of the human race. 
Thenceforward the conditions of life grew less favorable, 
and from century to century, from generation to genera- 
tion, underwent marked change. Vegetable and animal 



OMEGA. 231 

species, the human race itself, everything in short, became 
transformed. But whereas, hitherto, these metamorphoses 
had enriched, embellished and perfected life, the day had 
come when decadence was to begin. 

During more than a hundred thousand years it was 
insensible, for the parabolic curve of life did not suddenly 
fall away from its highest point. Humanity had reached 
a degree of civilization, of intellectual greatness, of phy- 
sical and moral well-being, of scientific, artistic and indus- 
trial perfection, incomparably beyond anything of which 
we know. For several million years the central heat of the 
globe had been utilized in winter for general warming pur- 
poses by towns, villages, manufactories and every variety 
of industry. When this failing source of heat had finally 
become exhausted, the heat of the sun had been stored 
subject to the wants of the race, hydrogen had been ex- 
tracted from sea-water, the energy of waterfalls, and sub- 
sequently that of the tides, had been transformed into light 
and heat, and the entire planet had become the plaything 
of science, which disposed at will of all its elements. The 
human senses, perfected to a degree which we should now 
qualify as supernatural, and those newly acquired, men- 
tioned above, become with the lapse of time more highly 
developed; humanity released more and more from the 
empire of matter ; a new system of alimentation ; the 
spirit governing the body and the gross appetites of for- 
mer times forgotten ; the psychic faculties in perpetual 



232 OMEGA, 

play, acting at a distance over the entire surface of the 
globe, communicating under certain conditions with even 
the inhabitants of Mars and Venus ; apparatus which we 
cannot imagine replacing those optical instniments with 
which physical astronomy had begun its investigations ; 
the whole world made new in its perceptions and inter- 
ests; an enlightened social condition from which envy 
and jealousy, as well as robbery, suffering and murder had 
disappeared — this, indeed, was a real humanity of flesh 
and bone like our own, but as far above it in intellectual 
supremacy as we are above the simians of the tertiary 
epoch. 

Human intelligence had so completely mastered the 
forces of nature that it seemed as if so glorious an era 
never could come to an end. The decrease in the amount 
of water, however, commenced to alarm even the most op- 
timistic. The great oceans had disappeared. The crust of 
the earth, once so thin and mobile, had gradually increased 
in thickness, and, notwithstanding the internal pressure, 
the earth had become almost completely solidified. Oscil- 
lations of the surface were no longer possible, for it had 
become entirely rigid. The seas which remained wei'e 
confined to the tropics. The poles were frozen. The 
continents of olden times, where so many other foci of 
civilization had shone so brilliantly, were immense des- 
erts. Step by step humanity had migrated towards the 
tropical zone, still watered by streams, lakes and seas. 



OMEGA. 



«? 




'• RUDIMENTARY SPECIES OF CRYPTOGAMS ONLY SURVIVED." 



934 OMEGA. 

There were no more moantains, no more condensers of 

snow. 

As the quantity of water and rain£cdl diminished, and, 
as the springs failed and the aqueous vapor of the atmos- 
phere grew less, vegetation had entirely changed its 
aspect, increasing the volume of its leaves and the length 
of its roots, seeking in every way to absorb the humidity 
necessary for life. Species which had not been able to 
adjust themselves to the new conditions had vanished ; the 
rest were transformed. Not a tree or a plant with which 
we are familiar was to be seen. There were no oaks, nor 
ashes, nor elms, nor willows, and the landscape bore no 
resemblance to that of today. Rudimentary species of 
cryptogams only survived. 

Like changes had taken place in the animal kingdom. 
Animal forms had been greatly modified. The wild spe- 
cies had either disappeared or been domesticated. The 
scarcity of water had modified the food of herbivora as 
well as carnivora. The most recent species, evolved from 
those which preceded them, were smaller, with less fat 
and a larger skeleton. The number of plants had sensibly 
decreased. Less of the carbonic acid of the air was ab- 
sorbed, and a proportionally greater quantity existed in 
the atmosphere. As for the human race, its metamor- 
phosis was so absolute that it was with an astonishment 
bordering on incredulity that one saw in geological mu- 
seums fossil specimens of men of the twentieth or one 



OMEGA. Z35 

hundredth century, with great brutal teeth and coarse 
intestines ; it was difficult to admit that organisms so 
gross could really be the ancestors of intellectual man. 

Though millions of years had passed, the sun still 
poured upon the earth almost the same quantity of heat 
and light. At most, the loss had not exceeded one-tenth. 
The only diflference was that the sun appeared a little 
yellower and a little smaller. 

The moon still revolved about the earth, but more 
slowly. Its distance from the earth had increased and its 
apparent diameter had diminished. At the same time 
the period of the earth's rotation had lengthened. This 
slower rotatory motion of the earth, increase in the dis- 
tance of the moon, and lengthening of the lunar month, 
were the results of the friction of the tides, whose action 
resembled that of a brake. If the earth and the moon 
last long enough, and there are still oceans and tides, cal- 
culation would enable us to predict that the time would 
come when the periodic time of the earth's rotation would 
finally equal the lunar month, so that ^there would be biit 
five and one-quarter days in the year: the earth would 
then always present the same side to the moon. But this 
would require more than 150 million years. The period 
of which we are speaking, ten million years, is but a 
fifteenth of the above ; and the time of the earth's rota- 
tion, instead of being seventy times, was only four and 
one-half times greater than it now is, or about no hours. 



236 



OMEGA 



These long days exposed the earth to the prolonged 
action of the sun, but except in those regions where its 
rays were normal to the surface, that is to say in the equa- 
torial zone between the two tropical circles, this exposure 
availed nothing ; the obliquity of the ecliptic had not 
changed; the inclination of the axis of the 'earth being 
the same, about two degrees, and the changes in the 
eccentricity of the earth's orbit had produced no sensible 
eflfect upon the seasons or the climate. 

The human form, food, respiration, organic functions, 
physical and intellectual life, ideas, opinions, religion, 
science, language — all had changed. Of present man 
almost nothing survived. 



_^r 



\-\^^ 



■4;. •'.•■.*.?- ■ 




CHAPTER IV. 

The last habitable regions of the globe were two wide 
valleys near the equator, the basins of dried up seas ; val- 
leys of slight depth, for the general level was almost ab- 
solutely uniform. No mountain peaks, ravines or wild 
gorges, not a single wooded valley or precipice was to be 
seen ; the world was one vast plain, from which rivers and 
seas had gradually disappeared. But as the action of 
meteorological agents, rainfall and streams, had dimin- 
ished in intensity with the loss of water, the last hollows 
of the sea bottom had not been entirely filled up, and 

shallow valleys remained, vestiges of the former structure 

237 



2^8 OMEGA. 

of the globe. • In these a little ice and moisture were left, 
but the circulation of water in the atmosphere had ceased, 
and the rivers flowed in subterranean channels as in in- 
visible veins. 

As the atmosphere contained no aqueous vapor, the sky 
was always cloudless, and there was neither rain nor snow. 
The sun, less dazzling and less hot than formerly, shone 
with the yellowish splendor of a topaz. The color of the 
sky was sea-green rather than blue. The volume of the 
atmosphere had diminished considerably. Its oxygen and 
nitrogen had become in part fixed in metallic combina- 
tions, as oxides and nitrides, and its carbonic acid had 
slowly increased, as vegetation, deprived of water, became 
more and more rare and absorbed an ever decreasing 
amount of this gas. But the mass of the earth, owing 
to the constant fall of meteorites, bolides and uranolites, 
had increased with time ; so that the atmosphere, though 
considerably less in volume, had retained its density and 
exerted nearly the same pressure. 

Strangely enough, the snow and ice had diminished as 
the earth grew cold ; the cause of this low temperature was 
the absence of water vapor from the atmosphere, which 
had decreased with the superficial area of the sea. As the 
water penetrated the interior of the earth and the general 
level became more uniform, first the depth and then the 
area of seas had been reduced, the invisible envelope of 
aqueous vapor had lost its protecting power, and the day 



OMEGA. 2JÇ 

came when the return of the heat received from the sun 
was no longer prevented, it was radiated into space as 
rapidly as it was received, as if it fell upon a mirror inca- 
pable of absorbing its rays. 

Such was the condition of the earth. The last repre- 
sentatives of the human race had survived all these physi- 
cal transformations» solely by virtue of its genius of inven- 
tion and power of adaptation. Its last efforts had been 
directed toward extracting nutritious substances from the 
air, from subterranean water, and from plants, and replac- 
ing the vanished vapor of the air by buildings and roofs 
of glass. 

It was necessary at any cost to capture these solar rays 
and to prevent their radiation into space. It was easy to 
store up this heat in large quantities, for the sun shone 
unobscured by any cloud and the day was long — fifty-five 
hours. 

For a long time the efforts of architects had been solely 
directed towards this imprisonment of the sun's rays and 
the prevention of their dispersion during the fifty-five 
hours of the night. They ,had succeeded in accomplish- 
ing this by an ingenius arrangement of glass roofs, super- 
posed one upon the other, and by movable screens. All 
combustible material had long before been exhausted ; and 
even the hydrogen extracted from water was difficult to 
obtain. 

The mean temperature in the open air during the day- 



240 OMEGA. 

time was not very low, not falling below -io°.* Not- 
withstanding the changes which the ages had wrought in 
vegetable life, no species of plants could exist, even in 
this equatorial zone. 

As for the other latitudes, they had been totally unin- 
habitable for thousands of years, in spite of every effort 
made to live in them. In the latitudes of Paris, Nice, 
Rome, Naples, Algiers and Tunis, all protective atmos- 
pheric action had ceased, and the oblique rays of the sun 
had proved insufficient to warm the soil which was frozen 
to a great depth, like a veritable block of ice. The world's 
population had gradually diminished from ten milliards 
to nine, to eight, and then to seven, one-half the surface 
of the globe being then habitable. As the habitable zone 
became more and more restricted to the equator, the popu- 
lation had still further diminished, as had also the mean 
length of human life, and the day came when only a few 
hundred millions remained, scattered in groups along the 
equator, and maintaining life only by the artifices of a 
laborious and scientific industry. 

Later still, toward the end, only two groups of a few 
hundred human beings were left, occupying the last sur- 
viving centers of industry. From all the rest of the globe 



* Many readers will regard this climate quite bearable, inasmuch, as in onr own 
day regions may be cited whose mean temperature is much lower, yet which are never- 
theless habitable, as, for example, Verchnoiansk, whose mean annual temperature is 
-19.3°. But in these regions there is a summer during which the ice melts ; and if in 
January the temperature falls to -60°, and even lower, in July they enjoy a temperature 
of fifteen and twenty degrees above zero. But at the stage which we have now reached 
in the history of the world, this mean temperature of the equatorial zone was constant, 
and it was impossible for ice ever to melt again. 



OMEGA. 241 

the human race had slowly but inexorably disappeared — 
dried up, exhausted, degenerated, from century to century, 
through the lack of an assimilable atmosphere and suffi- 
cient food. Its last remnants seemed to have lapsed back 
into barbarism, vegetating like the Esquimaux of the 
north. These two ancient centers of civilization, them- 
selves yielding to decay, had survived only at the cost of a 
constant struggle between industrial genius and implac- 
able nature. 

Even here, between the tropics and the equator, the two 
remaining groups of human beings which still contrived 
to exist in face of a thousand hardships which yearly be- 
came more insupportable, did so only by subsisting, so to 
speak, on what their predecessors had left behind. These 
two ocean valleys, one of which was near the bottom of 
what is now the Pacific ocean, the other to the south of 
the present island of Ceylon, had formerly been the sites 
of two immense cities of glass — iron and glass having 
been, for a long time, the materials chiefly employed in 
building construction. They resembled vast winter-gar- 
dens, without upper stories, with transparent ceilings of 
immense height. Here were to be found the last plants, 
except those cultivated in the subterranean galleries lead- 
ing to rivers flowing under ground. 

Elsewhere the surface of the earth was a ruin, and 
even here only the last vestiges of a vanished greatness 
were to be seen. 



242 



OMEGA. 







THE SOLE SURVIVORS. 



In the first of these ancient cities of glass, the sole 
survivors were two old men, and the grandson of one 
of them, Omegar, who had seen his mother and sisters 
die, one after the other, of consumption, and who now 
wandered in despair through these vast solitudes. Of 
these old men, one had formerly been a philosopher and 
had consecrated his long life to the study of the his- 
tory of perishing humanity ; the other was a physician 
who had in vain sought to save from consumption the 



OMEGA, 243 

last inhabitants of the world. Their bodies seemed 
wasted by anaemia rather than by age. They were pale 
as specters, with long, white beards, and only their moral 
energy sustained them yet an instant against the de- 
cree of destiny. But they could not struggle longer 
against this destiny, and one day Omegar found them 
stretched lifeless, side by side. From the dying hands 
of one fell the last history ever written, the history 
of the final transformations of humanity, written half 
a century before. The second had died in his labora- 
tory while endeavoring to keep in order the nourish- 
ment tubes, automatically regulated by machinery pro- 
pelled by solar engines. 

The last servants, long before developed by educa- 
tion from the simian race, had succumbed many years 
before, as had also the great majority of the animal 
species domesticated for the service of humanity. 
Horses, dogs, reindeers, and certain large birds used in 
aerial service, yet survived, but so entirely changed 
that they bore no resemblance to their progenitors. 

It was evident that the race was irrevocably 
doomed. Science had disappeared with scientists, art 
with artists, and the survivors lived only upon the 
past. The heart knew no more hope, the spirit no 
ambition. The light was in the past; the future was 
an eternal night. All was over. The glories of days 
gone by had forever vanished. If, in preceding cen- 



244 O M E G A . 

turies, some traveller, wandering in these solitudes, 
thought he had rediscovered the sites oF Paris, Rome, 
or the brilliant capitals which had succeeded them, he 
was the victim of his own imagination ; for these sites 
had not existed for millions of years, having been swept 
away by the waters of the sea. Vague traditions 
had floated down through the ages, thanks to the 
printing-press and the recorders of the great events of 
history ; but even these traditions were uncertain and 
often false. For, as to Paris, the annals of history 
contained only some references to a maritime Paris ; 
of its existence as the capital of France for thousands 
of years, there was no trace nor memor>^ The names 
which to us seem immortal, Confucius, Plato, Mahomet, 
Alexander, Csesar, Charlemagne, and Napoleon, had 
perished and were forgotten. Art had, indeed, pre- 
served noble memories ; but these memories did not 
extend as far back as the infancy of humanity, and 
reached only a few million years into the past. Ome- 
gar lingered in an ancient gallery of pictures, be- 
queathed by former centuries, and contemplated the 
great cities which had disappeared. Only one of these 
pictures related to what had once been Europe, and 
was a view of Paris, consisting of a promontory pro- 
jecting into the sea, crowned by an astronomical 
temple and gay with helicopterons circling above the 
lofty towers of its terraces. Immense ships were plow- 



OMEGA. 



245 




' ALL DAY LONG HK WAJSDSKKU THROUGH THB VAST GALLERIES." 



M ÙMÈGA. 

ing the sea. This classic Paris was the Paris of the 
one huudred and seventieth century of the Christian 
era, corresponding to the one hundred and fifty-seventh 
of the astronomical era — the Paris which existed im- 
mediately prior to the final submergence of the land. 
Even its name had changed ; for words change like 
persons and things. Nearby, other pictures portrayed 
the great but less ancient cities which had risen in 
America, Australia, Asia, and afterwards upon the con- 
tinents which had emerged from the ocean. And so 
this museum of the past recalled in succession the 
passing pomps of humanity down to the end. 

»The end! The hour. had struck on the time-piece 
of destiny. Omegar knew the life of the world hence- 
forth was in the past, that no future existed for it, and 
that the present even was vanishing like the dream of 
a moment. The last heir of the human race felt the 
overwhelming sentiment of the vanity of things. 
Should he wait for' some inconceivable miracle to save 
him from his fate? Should he bury his companions, 
and share their tomb with them? Should he endeavor 
to prolong for a few days, a few weeks, a few years 
even, a solitary, useless and despairing existence? All 
day long he wandered through the vast and silent gal- 
leries, and at night abandoned himself to the drowsi- 
ness which oppressed him. All about him was dark — 
the darkness of the sepulchre. 



OMEGA. 247 

A Sweet dream, however, stirred his slumbering 
thought, and surrounded his soul with a halo of an- 
gelic brightness. Sleep brought him the illusion of 
life. He was no longer alone. A seductive image 
which he had seen more than once before, stood be- 
fore him. Eyes caressing as the light of heaven, deep 
as the infinite, gazed upon him and attracted him. 
He was in a garden filled with the perfume of flow- 
ers. Birds sang in the nests amid the foliage. And 
in the distant landscape, framed in plants and flowers, 
were the vast ruins of dead cities. Then he saw a 
lake, on whose rippling surface two swans glided, 
bearing a cradle from which a new-bom child stretched 
toward him its arms. 

Never had such a ray of light illuminated his soul. 
So deep was his emotion that he suddenly awoke, 
opened his eyes, and found confronting him only the 
somber reality. Then a sadness more terrible even 
than any he had known filled his whole being. He 
could not find an instant of repose. He rose, went to 
his couch, and waited anxiously for the morning. He 
remembered his dream, but he did not believe in it. 
He felt, vaguely, that another human being existed 
somewhere ; but his degenerate race had lost, in part, 
its psychic power, and perhaps, also, woman always ex- 
erts upon man an attraction more powerful than that 
which man exerts upon woman. When the day broke. 



248 



OMEGA. 



when the last man saw the ruins of his ancient city 
standing out upon the sky of dawn, when he found 
himself alone with the two last dead, he realized more 
than ever his unavoidable destiny, and decided to ter- 
minate at once a life so hopelessly miserable. 

Going into the laboratory, he sought a bottle whose 
contents were well known to him, uncorked it, and 
carried it to his lips, to empty it at a draught. But, 
at the very moment the vial touched his lips, he felt 
a hand upon his arm. 

He turned suddenly. There was no one in the 
laboratory, and in the gallery he found only the two 
dead. 




CHAPTER V. 



In the ruins of the other equatorial city, occupying a 
once submerged valley south of the island of Ceylon, 
was a young girl, whose mother and older sister had 
perished of consumption and cold, and who was now 
left alone, the last surviving member of the last fam- 
ily of the race. A few trees, of northern species, had 
been preserved under the spacious dome of glass, and 
beneath their scanty foliage, holding the cold hands of 

her mother who had died the night before, the young 

249 



iSO OMEGA. 

girl sat alone, doomed to death in the very flower of 
her age. The night was cold. In the sky above the 
full moon shone like a golden torch, but its yellow 
rays were as cold as the silver beams of the ancient 
Selene. In the vast xoom reigned the stillness and 
solitude of death, broken only by the young girl's 
breathing, which seemed to animate the silence with 
the semblance of life. 

She was not weeping. Her sixteen years contained 
more experience and knowledge than sixty years of the 
world's prime. She knew that she was the sole sur- 
vivor of this last group of human beings, and that 
every happiness, every joy and every hope had van- 
ished forever. There was no present, no future ; only 
solitude and silence, the physical and moral impossibil- 
ity of life, and soon eternal sleep. She thought of 
the woman of bygone days, of those who had lived 
the real life of humanity, of lovers, wives and mothers, 
but to her red and tearless eyes appeared only images 
of death ; while beyond the walls of glass stretched 
a barren desert, covered by the last ice and the last 
snow. Now her young heart beat violently in her 
breast, till her slender hands could no longer com- 
press its tumult; and now life seemed arrested in her 
bosom, and every respiration suspended. If for a 
moment she fell asleep, in her dreams she played 
again with her laughing and care-free sister, while 



OMEGA 



^Sî 



her mother sung in a pure and penetrating voice the 
beautiful inspirations of the last poets ; and she seemed 
to see, once more, the last fêtes of a brilliant society, 
as if reflected from the surface of some distant mir- 
ror. Then, on awakening, these magic memories 
faded into the somber reality. Alone ! Alone in the 
world, and tomorrow death, without having known 
life ! To struggle against this unavoidable fate was 
useless ; the decree of destiny was without appeal, and 
there was nothing to do but to submit, to await the 
inevitable end, since without food or air organic life 
was impossible 
ticipate death 
self at once 
existence and 
She passed into 
where the warm [ 
flowing, al- 
pliances which 
ed to supply the 
were no longer 
der ; for the last 
vants (descend- 
simian species, 
human race had 
changing con- 
had also sue- 




else to an- 
and deliver one- 
from a joyless 
a certain doom, 
the bath-room, 
water was still 
though the ap- 
art had design- 
wants of life 
in working or- 
remaining ser- 
ants of ancient 
modified, as the 
been, by the 
ditions of life,) 
cumbed to the 



252 OMEGA, 

insufficiency of water. She plunged into the perfumed 
bath, turned the key which regulated the supply of 
electricity derived from subterranean water-courses still 
unfrozen, and for a moment seemed to forget the de- 
cree of destiny in the enjoyment of this refreshing rest. 
Had any indiscreet spectator beheld her as, standing upon 
the bear-skin before the large mirror, she began to ar- 
range the tresses of her long auburn hair, he would have 
detected a smile upon her lips, showing that, for an in- 
stant, she was oblivious of her dark future. Passing into 
another room, she approached the apparatus which fur- 
nished the food of that time, extracted from the water, 
air, and the plants and fruits automatically cultivated in 
the greenhouses. 

It was still in working order, like a clock which has 
been wound up. For thousands of years the genius of 
man had been almost exclusively applied to the strug- 
gle with destiny. The last remaining water had been 
forced to circulate in subterranean canals, where also 
the solar heat had been stored. The last animals had 
been trained to serve these machines, and the nutritious 
properties of the last plants had been utilized to the 
utmost. Men had finally succeeded in living upon 
almost nothing, so far as quantity was concerned ; 
every newly discovered form of food being completely 
assimilable. Cities had finally been built of glass, 
open to the sun, to which was conveyed every sub- 



OMEGA. 253 

stance necessary to the synthesis of the food which re- 
placed the products of nature. But as time passed, it 
became more and more difficult to obtain the necessaries 
of life. The mine was at last exhausted. Matter had 
been conquered by intelligence ; but the day had come 
when intelligence itself was overmatched, when every 
worker had died at his post and the earth's storehouse 
had been depleted. Unwilling to abandon this desper- 
ate struggle, man had put forth every effort. But he 
could not prevent the earth's absorption of water, and 
the last resources of a science which seemed greater 
even than nature itself had been exhausted. 

Eva returned to the body of her mother, and once 
more took the cold hands in her own. The psychic 
faculties of the race in these its latter days had ac- 
quired, as we have said, transcendent powers, and she 
thought for a moment to summon her mother from 
the tomb. It seemed to her as if she must have one 
more approving glance, one more counsel. A single 
idea took possession of her, so fascinating her that she 
even lost the desire to die. She saw afar the soul 
which should respond to her own. Every man be- 
longing to that company of which she was the last 
survivor had died before her birth. Woman had out- 
lived the sex once called strong. In the pictures up- 
on the walls of the great library, in books, engrav- 
ings and statues, she saw represented the great men of 



254 OMEGA. 

the city, but she had never seen a living man ; and 
still dreaming, strange and disquieting forms passed be- 
fore her. She was transported into an unknown and 
mysterious world, into a new. life, and love did not seem 
to be yet wholly banished from earth. During the reign 
of cold, all electrical communication between the two 
last cities left upon the earth had been interrupted. 
Their inhabitants could speak no more with eath other, 
see each other no more, nor feel each other's presence. 
Yet she was as well acquainted with the ocean city as 
if she had seen it, and when she fixed her eyes upon 
the . great terrestrial globe suspended from the ceiling of 
the library, and then, closing them, concentrated all her 
will and psychic power upon the object of her thoughts, 
she acted at a distance as effectively, though in a dif- 
ferent way, as in former days men had done when 
communicating with each other by electricity. She 
called, and felt that another heard and understood. The 
preceding night she had transported herself to the an- 
cient city in which Omegar lived, and had appeared to 
him for an instant in a dream. That very morning she 
had witnessed his despairing act and by a supreme effort 
of the will had arrested his arm. And now, stretched 
in her chair beside the dead body of her mother, heavy 
with sleep, her solitary soul wandered in dreams above 
the ocean city, seeking the companionship of the only 
mate left upon the earth. And far away, in that ocean 



OMEGA 



255 




By G. Rochegrosse. 



' SHE FELT THAT ANOTHKR HEARD AND UNDERSTOOD.*» 



256 



OMEGA. 



city, Omegar heard her call. Slowly, as in a dream, 
he ascended the platform from which the air-ships used 
to take their flight Yielding to a mysterious influence, 

he obeyed the distant 
suniiiion<>. Speeding to- 
ward the west, the elec- 
tric air-ship passed above 
the frozen regions of the 
tropics, once the site of 
the Pacific ocean, Poly- 
nesia, Malaisia and the 
Sunda islands, ar 
stopped at the landing 

1 




" YOU CALLED ME. I HAVE COME." 



OMEGA. 2S7 

of the crystal palace. The young girl, startled from her 
dream by the traveller, who fell from the air at her feet, 
fled in terror to the farther end of the immense hall, lift- 
ing the heavy curtain of skin which separated it from 
the library. When the young man reached her side, he 
stopped, knelt, and took her hand in his, saying simply : 
'* You called me. I have come." And then he added : 
'^ I have known you for a long time. I knew that you 
existed, I have often seen you ; you are the constant 
thought of my heart, but I did not dare to come." 

She bade him rise, saying : " My friend, I know that 
we are alone in the world, and that we are about to die. 
A will stronger than my own compelled me to call you. 
It seemed as if it were the supreme desire of my mother, 
supreme even in death. See, she sleeps thus since yester- 
day. How long the night is ! " 

The young man, kneeling, had taken the hand of the 
' dead, and they both stood there beside the funeral couch, 
as if in prayer. 

He leaned gently toward the young girl, and their heads 
, touched. He let fall the hand of the dead. 

Eva shuddered. ** No," she said. 

Then, suddenly, he sprang to his feet in terror ; the 
dead woman had revived. She had withdrawn the .hand 
j which he had taken in his own, and had opened her eyes. 
She made a movement, looking at them. 

" I wake from a strange dream," she said, without seem- 



^5S 



OMEGA . 




' BBHOLD, WHBRB WB SHAI,L BB TOMORROWl ' 



OMEGA, 25g 

ing surprised at the presence of Omegar. " Behold, my 
children, my dream ; " and she pointed to the planet Jupi- 
ter, shining with dazzling splendor in the sky. 

And as they gazed upon the star, to their astonished 
vision, it appeared to approach them, to grow larger, to 
take the place of the frozen scene about them. 

Its immense seas were covered with ships. Aerial fleets 
cleaved the air. The shores of its seas and the mouths of 
its great rivers were the scenes of a prodigious activity. 
Brilliant cities appeared, peopled by moving multitudes. 
Neither the details of their habitations nor the forms of 
these new beings could be distinguished, but one divined 
that here was a humanity quite different from ours, living 
in the bosom of another nature, having other senses at its 
disposal ; and one felt also that this vast world was in- 
comparably superior to the earth. 

" Behold, where we shall be tomorrow ! '' said the dying 
woman. ** We shall find there all the human race, per- 
fected and transformed. Jupiter has received the inheri- 
tance of the earth. Our world has accomplished its mis- 
sion, and life is over here below. Farewell ! '' 

She stretched out her arms to them ; they bent over her 
pale face and pressed a long kiss upon her forehead. But 
they perceived that this forehead was cold as marble, in 
spite of this strange awakening. 

The dead woman had closed her eyes, to open them no 
more. 




CHAPTER VI. 

It is sweet to live. Love atones for every loss ; in its 
joys all else is forgotten. Ineffable music of the heart, 
thy divine melody fill the soul with an ecstasy of infinite 
happiness ! What illustrious historians have celebrated 
the heroes of the world's progress, the glories of war, the 
conquests of mind and of spirit ! Yet after so many cen- 
turies of labor and struggle, there remained only two pal- 
pitating hearts, the kisses of two lovers. All had perished 
except love ; and love, the supreme sentiment, endured, 
shining like an inextinguishable beacon over the immense 
ocean of the vanished ages. 



OMEGA, 261 

Death ! They did not dream of it. Did they not suf- 
fice for each other ? What if the cold froze their very 
marrow ? Did they not possess in their hearts a warmth 
which defied the cold of nature ? Did not the sun still 
shine gloriously, and was not the final doom of the world 
yet far distant ? Omegar bent every energy to the main- 
tenance of the marvellous system which had been devised 
for the automatic extraction by chemical processes of the 
nutritive principles of the air, water and plants, and in 
this he seemed to be successful. So in other days, after 
the fall of the Roman empire, the barbarians had been 
seen to utilize during centuries the aqueducts, baths and 
thermal springs, all the creations of the civilization of the 
Caesars, and to draw from a vanished industry the sources 
of their own strength. 

But one day, wonderful as it was, this system gave out. 
The subterranean waters themselves ceased to flow. The 
soil was frozen to a great depth. The rays of the sun still 
warmed the air within the glass-covered dwellings, but 
no plant could live longer ; the supply of water was ex- 
hausted. 

The combined efforts of science and industry were im- 
potent to give to the atmosphere the nutritive qualities 
possessed by those of other worlds, and the human organ- 
ism constantly clamored for the regenerating principles 
which, as we have seen, had been derived from the air, 
water and plants. These sources were now exhausted. 



202 OMEGA, 

This last human pair struggled against these insur- 
mountable obstacles, and recognized the uselessness of 
farther contest, yet they were not resigned to death. Be- 
fore knowing each other they had awaited it fearlessly. 
Now each wished to defend the other, the beloved one, 
against pitiless destiny. The very idea of seeing Omegar 
lying inanimate beside her, filled Eva with such anguish 
that she could not bear the thought. And he, too, vainly 
longed to carry away his well beloved from a world 
doomed to decay, to fly with her to that brilliant Jupiter 
which awaited them, and not to abandon to the earth the 
body he adored. 

He thought that, perhaps, there still existed, somewhere 
upon the earth, a spot which had retained a little of that 
life-giving water without which existence was impossible ; 
and, although already they were both almost without 
strength, he formed the supreme resolution of setting out 
to seek for it. The electric aéronef was still in working 
order. Forsaking the city which was now only a tomb, 
the two last survivors of a vanished humanity abandoned 
these inhospitable regions and set out to seek some un- 
known oasis. 

The ancient kingdoms of the world passed under their 
feet. They saw the remains of great cities, made illus- 
trious by the splendors of civilization, lying in ruins 
along the equator. The silence of death covered them 
all. Omegar recognized the ancient city which he had 



OMEGA, 263 

recently left, but he knew that there, also the supreme 
source of life was lacking, and they did not stop. They 
traversed thus, in their solitary air-ship, the regions 
which had witnessed the last stages of the life of human- 
ity ; but death, and silence, and the frozen desert was 
everywhere. No more fields, no more vegetation ; the 
watercourses were visible as on a map, and it was evi- 
dent that along their banks life had been prolonged ; but 
they were now dried up forever. And when, at times, 
some motionless lake was distinguished in the lower level, 
it was like a lake of stone ; for even at the equator the 
sun was powerless to melt the eternal ice. A kind of 
bear, with long fur, was still to be seen wandering over 
the frozen earth, seeking in the crevices of the rocks 
its scanty vegetable food. From time to time, also, 
they descried a kind of penguin and sea-cows walking 
upon the ice, and large, gray polar birds in awkward 
flight, or alighting mournfully. 

Nowhere was the sought-for oasis found. The earth 
was indeed dead. 

Night came. Not a cloud obscured the sky. A 
warmer current from the south had carried them over 
what was formerly Africa, now a frozen waste. The 
mechanism of the aéronef had ceased to work. Ex- 
hausted by cold rather than by hunger, they threw 
themselves upon the bear-skins in the bottom of the 
car. 



204 



OMEGA 




A WHITE SHADOW STOfl>lïlï BEFOKE TUBm A:à1:<JNti5HliI> iîYES/" 



OMEGA , 265 

Perceiving a ruin, they alighted. It was an immense 
quadrangular base, revealing traces of an enormous stone 
stairway. It was still possible to recognize one of the 
ancient Egyptian pyramids which, in the middle of the 
desert, survived the civilization which it represented. 
With all Egypt, Nubia and Abyssinia, it had sunk below 
the level of the sea, and had afterwards emerged into the 
light and been restored in the heart of a new capital by a 
new civilization, more brilliant than that of Thebes and 
of Memphis, and finally had been again abandoned to the 
desert. It was the only remaining monument of the earl- 
ier life of humanity, and owed its stability to its geometric 
form. 

" Let us rest here," said Eva, " since we are doomed to 
die. Who, indeed, has escaped death ? Let me die in 
peace in your arms.'' 

They sought a corner of the ruin and sat down beside 
each other, face to face with the silent desert. The young 
girl cowered upon the ground, pressing her husband in 
her . arms, still striving with all her might against the 
penetrating cold. He drew her to his heart, and warmed 
her with his kisses. 

" I love you, and I am dying," she said. " But, no, we 
will not die. See that star, which calls us ! " 

At the same moment they heard behind them a slight 
noise, issuing from the ancient tomb of Cheops, a noise 
like that the wind makes in the leaves. Shuddering, they 



266 OMEGA, 

turned, together, in the direction whence the sound came. 
A white shadow, which seemed to be self-luminous, for 
the night was already dark and there was no moon, glided 
rather than walked toward them, and stopped before their 
astonished eyes. 

*^ Fear nothing," it said. ** I come to seek you. No, 
you shall not die. No one has ever died. Time flows 
into eternity ; eternity remains. 

** I was Cheops, King of Egypt, and I reigned over this 
country in the early days of the world. As a slave, I have 
since expiated my crimes in many existences, and when at 
length my soul deserved immortality I lived upon Nep- 
tune, Ganymede, Rhea, Titan, Saturn, Mars, and other 
worlds as yet unknown to you. Jupiter is now my home. 
In the days of humanity's greatness, Jupiter was not habit- 
able for intelligent beings. It was passing through the 
necessary stages of preparation. Now this immense world 
is the heir to all human achievement. Worlds succeed 
each other in time as in space. All is eternal, and merges 
into the divine. Confide in me, and follow me." 

And as the old Pharaoh was still speaking, they felt a 
delicious fluid penetrate their souls, as sometimes the ear 
is filled with an exquisite melody. A sense of calm and 
transcendent happiness flowed in their veins. Never, in 
any dream, in any ecstasy, had they ever experienced such 

joy- 'V^ 

Eva pressed Omegar in her arms. ** I love you," she 



OMEGA 



267 








jry O. Guilionnet. 



' THE SPECTRE ROSE INTO SPACE." 



208 



OMEGA 



repeated. Her voice was only a breath. He touched his 
lips to her already cold mouth, and heard them murmur : 
" How I could have loved ! '' 

Jupiter was shining majestically above them, and in the 
glorious light of his rays their sight grew dim and their 
eyes gently closed. 

The spectre rose into space and vanished. And one to 
whom it is given to see, not with the bodily eyefe, which 
perceive only material vibrations, but with the eyes of the 
soul, which perceive psychical vibrations, might have seen 
two small flames shining side by side, united by a com- 
mon attraction, and rising, together with the phantom, 
into the heavens. 




EPILOGUE. 




^r.v-.^., "M 



"And ihe Rugç\ 1iO,çd up hb hand to heaven and 
s ware hy Him ihat llvelh forevei nud ever that there 
should he time no longtr."— Rev, 1,^ 6- 



The earth was dead. The other 
planets also had died one after the 
other. The sun was extinguished. 
But the stars still shone; there were 
^« " still suns and worlds. 

In the measureless duration of eternity, time, an essen- 
tially relative conception, is determined by each world, and 
even in each world this conception is dependent upon the 
consciousness of the individual. Each world measures its 
own duration. The year of the earth is not that of Nep- 
tune. The latter is 164 times the former, and yet is not 
longer relatively to the absolute. There is no common 
measure between time and eternity. In empty space there 
is no time, no years, no centuries ; only the possibility of a 



270 OMEGA, 

iiicaHiircmcnt of time which becomes real the moment a 
rcvolviti^ world appears. Without some periodic motion 
«o crMiccptirjm whatever of time is possible. 

The earth no longer existed, nor her celestial com- 
panion, the little isle of Mars, nor the beautiful sphere 
of Venus, nor the colossal world of Jupiter, nor the 
strange universe of Saturn, which had lost its rings, 
nor the slow-moving Uranus and Neptune — ^not even 
the glorious sun, in whose fecundating heat these man- 
sions of the heavens had basked for so many centuries. 
The sun was a dark ball, the planets also ; and still 
this invisible system sped on in the glacial cold of 
starry space. So far as life is concerned, all these 
worlds were dead, did not exist. They survived their 
jmst history like the ruins of the dead cities of Assyria 
which the archaeologist uncovers in the desert, moving 
on their way in darkness through the invisible and the 
unknown. 

No genius, no magician could recall the vanished 
l)ast, when the earth floated bathed in light, with its 
broad green fields waking to the morning sun, its rivers 
winding like long serpents through the verdant mead- 
ows, its woods alive with the songs of birds, its forests 
filled with deep and mysterious shadows, its seas heav- 
ing with the tides or roaring in the tempest, its moun- 
tain slopes furrowed with rushing streams and cascades, 
its ganlens enameled with flowers, its nests of birds 



OMEGA. ^ 271 

and cradles of children, and its toiling population, whose 
activity had transformed it and who lived so joyously 
a life perpetuated by the delights of an endless love. 
All this happiness seemed eternal. What has become 
of those mornings and evenings, of those flowers and 
those lovers, of that light and perfume, of those har- 
monies and joys, of those beauties and dreams? All 
is dead, has disappeared in the darkness of night. 

The world dead, all the planets dead, the sun extin- 
guished. The solar system annihilated, time itself sus- 
pended. 

Time lapses into eternity. But eternity remains, and 
time is born again. 

Before the existence of the earth, throughout an 
eternity, suns and worlds existed, peopled with beings 
like ourselves. Millions of years before the earth was, 
they were. The past of the universe has been as 
brilliant as the present, the future will be as the past, 
the present is of no importance. 

In examining the past history of the earth, we might 
go back to a time when our planet shone in space, a 
veritable sun, appearing as Jupiter and Saturn do now, 
shrouded in a dense atmosphere charged with warm 
vapors ; and we might follow all its transformations 
down to the period of man. We have seen that when 
its heat was entirely dissipated, its waters absorbed, the 
aqueous vapor of its atmosphere gone, and this atmos- 



272 OMEGA, 

phere itself more or less absorbed, our planet must have 
presented the appearance of those great lunar deserts 
seen through the telescope (with certain differences due 
to the action of causes peculiar to the earth), with its 
final geographical configurations, its dried-up shores and 
water-courses, a planetary corpse, a dead and frozen 
world. It still bears, however, within its bosom an 
unexpended energy — that of its motion of translation 
about the sun, an energy which, transformed into heat 
by the sudden destruction of its motion, would suffice 
to melt it and to reduce it, in part, to a state of 
vapor, thus inaugurating a new epoch ; but for an 
instant only, for, if this motion of translation were 
destroyed, the earth would fall into the sun and its 
independent existence would come to an end. If sud- 
denly arrested it would move in a straight line toward 
the sun, with an increasing velocity, and reach the sun 
in sixty-five days ; were its motion gradually arrested, 
it would move in a spiral, to be swallowed up, at last, 
in the central luminary. 

The entire history of terrestrial life is before our 
eyes. It has its commencement and its end ; and its 
duration, however many the centuries which compose it, 
is preceded and followed by eternity — is, indeed, but a 
single instant lost in eternity. 

For a long time after the earth had ceased to be the 
abode of life, the colossal worlds of Jupiter and Saturn, 



OMEGA. 273 

passing more slowly from their solar to their planetary 
stage, reigned in their turn among the planets, with 
the splendor of a vitality incomparably superior to that 
of our earth. But they, also, waxed old and descended 
into the night of the tomb. 



Had the earth, like Jupiter, for example, retained 
long enough the elements of life, death would have 
come only with the extinction of the sun. But the 
length of the life of a world is proportional to its 
size and its elements of vitality. • 

The solar heat is due to two principal causes — the 
condensation of the original nebula, and the fall of 
meteorites. According to the best established calcula- 
tions of thermodynamics, the former has produced a 
quantity of heat eighteen million times greater than 
that which the sun radiates yearly, supposing the orig- 
inal nebula was cold, which there is no reason to 
believe was the case. It is, therefore, certain that the 
solar temperature produced by this condensation far 
exceeded the above. If condensation continues, the 
radiation of heat may go on for centuries without loss. 

The heat emitted every second is equal to that 
which would result from the combustion of eleven 

quadrillions six hundred thousand milliards of tons of 

18 



274 



OMEGA 



coal burning at once ! The earth intercepts only one 
five hundredth millionth part of the radiant heat, and 
this one five hundredth millionth sufiices to maintain 
all terrestrial life. Of sixty-seven millions of light 
and heat rays which the sun radiates into space, only 
one is received and utilized by the planets. 

Well ! to maintain this source of heat it is only 
necessary that the rate of condensation should be such 



that the sun's 
decrease seventy- 
year, or one kilo- 
years. This con- 
gradual that it 
imperceptible, 
five hundred 
required to re- 
by one single 
Even if the sun 
gaseous state, its 




diameter should 
seven meters a 
meter in thirteen 
traction is so 
would be wholly 
Nine thousand 
years would be 
duce the diameter 
second of arc. 
be actually in a 
temperature, so 



far from growing less, or even remaining stationar>', 
would increase by the very fact of contraction; for if 
on the one hand the temperature of a gaseous body 
falls when it condenses, on the other hand the heat 
generated by contraction is more than sufficient to pre- 
vent a fall in temperature, and the amount of heat 
increases until a liquid state is reached. The sun seems 
to have reached this stage. 



OMEGA. 275 

The condensation of the sun, whose density is only 
one-fourth that of the earth, may thus of itself main- 
tain for centuries, at least for ten million years, the 
light and heat of this brilliant star. But we have just 
spoken of a second source of heat : the fall of meteor- 
ites. One hundred and forty-six million meteorites fall 
upon the earth yearly. A vastly greater number fall 
into the sun, because of its greater attraction. If their 
mass equals about the one hundredth part of the mass 
of the earth, their fall would suffice to maintain the 
temperature, — not by their combustion, for if the sun 
itself was being consumed it would not have lasted 
more than six thousand years, but by the sudden trans- 
formation of the energy of motion into heat, the ve- 
locity of impact being 650,000 meters per second, so 
great is the solar attraction. 

If the earth should fall into the sun, it would make 
good for ninety-five years the actual loss of solar en- 
ergy; Venus would make good this loss for eighty- 
four years; Mercury for seven; Mars for thirteen; Jup- 
iter for 32,254; Saturn for 9652; Uranus for 1610; 
and Neptune for 1890 years. That is to say, the fall 
of all the planets into the sun would produce heat 
enough to maintain the present rate of expenditure 
for about 46,000 years. 

It is therefore certain that the fall of meteors greatly 
lengthens the life of the sun. One thirty-third mill- 



276^ OMEGA. 

ionth of the solar mass added each year would com- 
pensate for the loss, and half of this would be suffi- 
cient if we admit that condensation shares equally with 
the fall of meteorites in the maintenance of solar heat ; 
centuries would have to pass before any acceleration 
of the planets' velocities would be apparent. 

Owing to these two causes alone we may, therefore, 
admit a future for the sun of at least twenty million years ; 
and this period cannot but be increased by other unknown 
causes, to say nothing of an encounter with a swarm of 
meteorites. 

The sun therefore was the last living member of the sys- 
tem ; the last animated by the warmth of life. 

But the sun also went out. After having so long poured 
upon his celestial children his vivifying beams, the black 
spots upon his surface increased in number and in extent, 
his brilliant photosphere grew dull, and his hitherto daz- 
zling surface became congealed. An enormous red ball 
took the place of the dazzling center of the vanished worlds. 

For a long time this enormous star maintained a high 
surface temperature, and a sort of phosphorescent atmos- 
phere ; its virgin soil, illumined by the light of the stars 
and by the electric influences which formed a kind of at- 
mosphere, gave birth to a marvelous flora, to an unknown 
fauna, to beings differing absolutely in organization from 
those who had succeeded each other upon the worlds of its 
system. 



OMEGA. 277 

But for the sun also the end came, and the hour sounded 
on the timepiece of destiny when the whole solar system 
was stricken from the book of life. And one after another 
the stars, each one of which is a sun, a solar system, shared 
the same fate ; yet the universe continued to exist as it 
does today. 



W 



The science of mathematics tells us : " The solar system 
does not appear to possess at present more than the one 
four hundred and fifty-fourth part of the transformable en- 
ergy which it had in the nebulous state. Although this 
remainder constitutes a fund whose magnitude confounds 
our imagination, it will also some day be exhausted. La- 
ter, the transformation will be complete for the entire uni- 
verse, resulting in a general equilibrium of temperature 
and pressure. 

" Energy will not then be susceptible of transformation. 
This does not mean annihilation, a word without meaning, 
nor does it mean the absence of motion, properly speak- 
ing, since the same sum of energy will always exist in the 
form of atomic motion, but the absence of all sensible 
motion, of all differentiation, the absolute uniformity of 
conditions, that is to say, absolute death.'' 

Such is the present statement of the science of mathe- 
matics. 



278 OMEGA, 

Experiment and observation prove that on the one hand 
the quantity of matter, and on the other hand the quantity 
of energy also, remains constant, whatever the change in 
form or in position ; but they also show that the universe 
tends to a state of equilibrium, a condition in which its 
heat will be uniformly distributed. 

The heat of the sun and of all the stars seems to be 
due to the transformation of their initial energy of mo- 
tion, to molecular impacts; the heat thus generated is 
being constantly radiated into space, and this radiation 
will go on until every sun is cooled down to the 
temperature of space itself. 

If we admit that the sciences of today, mechanics, 
physics and mathematics, are trustworthy, and that 
the laws which now control the operations of nature 
and of reason are permanent, this must be the fate of 
the universe. 

Far from being eternal, the earth on which we live has 
had a beginning. In eternity a hundred million years, a 
thousand million years or centuries, are as a day. There 
is an eternity behind us and before us, and all apparent 
duration is but a point. A scientific investigation of na- 
ture and acquaintance with its laws raises, therefore, the 
question already raised by the theologians, whether Plato, 
Zoroaster, Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas, or 
some young seminarist who has just taken orders : " What 
was God doing before the creation of the universe, and 



OMEGA, 27c 

what will he do after its end?'' Or, under a less anthro 
morphic form, since God is unknowable : " What was the 
condition of the universe prior to the present order of 
things, and what will it be after this order has passed 
away ? " 

Note that the question is the same, whether we admit a 
personal God, reasoning and acting toward a definite end, 
or, whether we deny the existence of any spiritual being, 
and admit only the existence of indestructible atoms and 
forces representing an invariable sum of energy. 

In the first case, why should God, an eternal and 
uncreated power, remain inactive ? Or, having remained 
inactive, satisfied with the absolute infinity of his na- 
ture which nothing could augment, why did he change 
this state and create matter and force? 

The theologian may reply : " Because it was his good 
pleasure." But philosophy is not satisfied with this 
change in the divine purpose. In the second case, since 
the origin of the present condition of things only dates 
back a certain time, and since there can be no effect 
without a cause, we have the right to ask what was the 
condition of things anterior to the formation of the 
present universe. 

Although energy is indestructible, we certainly cannot 
deny the tendency toward its universal dissipation, and 
this must lead to absolute repose and death, for the con- 
clusions of mathematics are irresistible. 



28o OMEGA, 



Nevertheless, we do not concede this. 

Why? 

Because the universe is not a definite quantity. 



£1 



It is impossible to conceive of a limit to the extension 
of matter. Limitless space, the inexhaustible source of 
the transformation of potential energy into visible motion, 
and thence into heat and other forces, confronts us, and 
not a simple, finished piece of mechanism, running like a 
clock and stopping forever. 

The future of the universe is its past. If the universe 
were to have had an end, this end would have been reached 
long ago, and we should not be here to study this 
problem. 

It is because our conceptions are finite, that things have 
a beginning and an end. We cannot conceive of an abso- 
lutely endless series of transformations, either in the future 
or in the past, nor that an equally endless series of mate- 
rial combinations, of planets, suns, sun-systems, milky 
ways, stellar universes, can succeed each other. Never- 
theless, the heavens are there to show us the infinite. 
Nor can we comprehend any better the infinity of space 
or of time ; yet it is impossible for us to conceive of a 
limit to either, for our thought overleaps the limit, and is 



OMEGA, 281 

impotent to conceive of bounds beyond which there is no 
space nor time. One may travel forever, in any direc- 
tion, without reaching a boundary, and as soon as anyone 
affirms that at a certain moment duration ceases, we refuse 
our assent ; for we cannot confound time with the human 
measures of it. 

These measures are relative and arbitrary ; but time 
itself exists, like space, independently of them. Suppress 
everything, space and time would still remain ; that is to 
say, space which material things may occupy, and the pos- 
sibility of the succession of events. If this were not so, 
neither space nor time would be really measurable, not 
even in thought, since thought would not exist. But it is 
impossible for the mind even to suppress either the one or 
the other. Strictly speaking, it is neither space nor time 
that we are speaking of, but infinity and eternity, rela- 
tive to which every measure, however great, is but a 
point. 

We do not comprehend or conceive of infinite space or 
time, because we are incapable of it. But this incapacity 
does not invalidate the existence of the absolute. In con- 
fessing that we do not comprehend infinity, we feel it 
about us, and that space, as bounded by a wall or any 
barrier whatever, is in itself an absurd idea. And we are 
equally incapable of denying the possibility of the exist- 
ence, at some instant of time, of a system of worlds whose 
motions would measure time without creating it. Do our 



282 



OMEGA 




OMEGA. 283 

clocks create time ? No, they do but measure it In the 
presence of the absolute, our measures of both time and 
space vanish ; but the absolute remains. 

We live, then, in the infinite, without doubting it for 
an instant. The hand which holds this pen is com- 
posed of eternal and indestructible elements, and the 
atoms which constituted it existed in the solar nebula 
whence our planet came, and will exist forever. Your 
lungs breathe, your brains think, with matter and forces 
which acted millions of years ago and will act endlessly. 
And the little globule which we inhabit floats, not at the 
center of a limited universe, but in the depth of infinity, 
as truly as does the most distant star which the telescope 
can discover. 

The best definition of the universe ever given, to which 
there was nothing to add, is Pascal's, "A sphere whose 
center is everywhere and circumference nowhere." 

It is this infinity which assures the eternity of the uni- 
verse. 

Stars, systems, myriads, milliards, universes succeed 
each other without end in every direction. 

We do not live near a center which does not exist, 
and the earth, like the farthest star, lies in the fathom- 
less infinite. 

No bounds to space. Fly in thought in any direction 
with any velocity for months, years, centuries, forever, 
we shall meet with no limit, approach no boundary, 



284 OMEGA. . 

we shall always remain in the vestibule of the infinite 
before us. 

No bounds to time. Live in imagination through 
future ages, add centuries to centuries, epoch to epoch, 
wc shall never attain the end, we shall always remain in 
the ves'tibule of the eternity which opens before us. 

In our little sphere of terrestrial observation we see 
that, through all the transformations of matter and mo- 
tion, the same quantity of each remains, though under 
new forms. Living beings afford a perpetual illustration 
of this : they are bom, they grow by appropriating sub- 
stances from the world without, and when they die they 
break up and restore to nature the elements of which they 
are composed. But by a law whose action never ceases 
other bodies are constituted from these same elements. 
Kvery star may be likened to an organized being, even as 
regards its internal heat. A body is alive so long as respi- 
ration and the circulation of the blood makes it possible 
for the various organs to perform their functions. When 
equilibrium and repose are reached, death follows ; but 
after death all the substances of which the body was 
formed are wrought into other beings. Dissolution is 
the prelude to recreation. Analog}' leads us to believe 
that the same is true of the cosmos. Nothing can be 
destroyed. 

There is an iNamtmepisurabie Pozver^ which we are 
obliged to recognize as limitless in space and ztnthaui be-- 



OMEGA. 28s 

ginning or end in time^ and this Power is that which 
persists through all the changes in those sensible appear- 
ances under which the universe presents itself to us. 

For this reason there will always be suns and worlds, 
not like ours, but still suns and worlds succeeding each 
other through all eternity. 

And for us this visible universe can only be the chang- 
ing appearance of the absolute and eternal reality. 



It is in virtue of this transcendent law that, long 
after the death of the earth, of the giant planets and the 
central luminary, while our old and darkened sun was 
still speeding through boundless space, with its dead 
worlds on which terrestrial and planetary life had once 
engaged in the futile struggle for daily existence, another 
extinct sun, issuing from the depths of infinity, collided 
obliquely with it and brought it to rest ! 

Then in the vast night of space, from the shock of 
these two mighty bodies was suddenly kindled a stupen- 
dous conflagration, and an immense gaseous nebula was 
formed, which trembled for an instant like a flaring 
flame, and then sped on into regions unknown. Its tem- 
perature was several million degrees. All which here 
below had been earth, water, air, minerals, plants, atoms; 
all which had • constituted man, his flesh, his palpitating 



286 OMEGA, 

heart, his flashing eye, his armed hand, his thinking 
brain, his entrancing beauty ; the victor and the van- 
quished, the executioner and his victim, and those in- 
ferior souls still wearing the fetters of matter, — ^all were 
changed into fire. And so with the worlds of Mars, 
Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, and the rest. . It was the resur- 
rection of visible nature. But those superior souls which 
had acquired immortality continued to live forever in 
the hierarchy of the invisible psychic universe. The 
conscious existence of mankind had attained an ideal 
state. Mankind had passed by transmigration through 
the worlds to a new life with God, and freed from the 
burdens of matter, soared with an endless progress in 
eternal light. 

The immense gaseous nebula, which absorbed all 
fonner worlds, thus transformed into vapor, began to turn 
upon itself. And in the zones of condensation of this 
primordial star-mist, new worlds were bom, as heretofore 
the earth was. 

So another universe began, whose genesis some future 
Moses and Laplace would tell, a new creation, extra- 
terrestrial, superhuman, inexhaustible, resembling neither 
the earth nor Mars, nor Saturn, nor the sun. 

And new humanities arose, new civilizations, new van- 
ities, another Babylon, another Thebes, another Athens, 
another Rome, another Paris, new palaces, temples, glories 
and loves. And all these things possessed nothing of 



OMEGA. 



287 



the earth, whose very memory had passed away like a 
shadow. 

And these universes passed away in their turn. But 
infinite space remained, peopled with worlds, and stars, 
and souls, and suns ; and time went on forever. 

For there can be neither end nor beginning. 




X 



FEB :.■ u 1345